Plastics News automotive reporter Rhoda Miel sat down and talkrf with Klaus Busse, head of interiors for Chrysler Group, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Q: For years, people have used the word “plasticky” to describe anything that looked cheap, but you're using plastic in ways that change that.
Busse: I think one day, someone will come up with a name like Alcantara (a trade name for a composite material which mimics suede) for plastic, because Alcantara is an artificial material, but everyone thinks that it's better than leather. Plastic has the reputation in the marketplace as being something cheap, but the thing is, plastic is a wonderful material. You can give it any shape, any look. I would say that the shapes and looks we gave it in the past were not the best ones. Today we are much more successful in using plastic in the right areas.
Q: What's different today?
Busse: For me, the real breakthrough with Chrysler in terms of how we use plastic is the shape we're using. It's like the stones we have here along Lake Michigan. These stones were shaped by the water for years to this beautiful thing that's wonderful to touch. You can hold it in your hand and carry it with you. It's very soothing, but it's rock hard. So we thought, why shouldn't we have something in the interior like that? What we did was find that plastic can have a nice, sensual shape to it.
What we always did in the past was, we used plastic on flat surfaces. [Air conditioning] outlets were just holes that were cut out. We didn't think about where we put the parting lines in the tools, so that the parting lines would be visible to the customer. We didn't maintain the tools properly, so we had flash — and then on top of it, we just dipped the whole thing in gray. Now, gray is a very nice color. I have a gray suit at home. But the problem is, if you have a gray suit and a gray tie and gray shoes and a gray belt, then you have a problem. So when you have the gray look in combination with flat plastic surfaces, we had a problem.
We still have gray, but now accented with some really provocative colors, and we still have hard plastic, but in some nice shapes that are easy to the touch. I can design you an interior that's made all out of hard plastic, but it's going to look softer than an interior that's soft.
Q: You're looking at the use of materials in other industries as well?
Busse: Plastic is not the problem, it's the way that we use it. When Apple came back with the original iMac, it was done in a nice way with beautiful plastic. When you say Herman Miller, you immediately think of the Eames chair. This was a chair made with plywood, but it's honest about its materials. It's not using wood as a decoration, but as a structure. The key is not to use plastic to look like something else. The thing is to use plastic in an honest way, not to make it look like something fake.
Q: We can expect to see this interiors focus and materials use continue at Chrysler?
Busse: Since 2005, we've done 11 all new interiors. The Dart is just another step. There will be other cars coming out in which you will see this constant progression. It's not only putting more wood or leather in the interior, but you will see us refining it more. The AC outlets, for example — its not only about the surface, but now we design the inside of the AC outlet so that if the owner looks into it to see the mechanism, it's done in a nice, clean way, and we didn't do that in the past. We're getting more and more involved with all these details.