In 2005, Chrysler Group's head of design, Ralph Gilles, called on the company to reinvent its concept of what it could do with auto interiors.
That idea remained strong as the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker went through bankruptcy in 2009 and began the process of rebuilding its image with new and updated cars that began hitting the streets in 2011.
“What was only going to be one team grew into a whole study for interior design,” said Klaus Busse, who was named the head of Chrysler's interior design group last year.
As Busse talked about how Chrysler is using materials in new-car development at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the newly unveiled Dodge Dart nearby drew a steady crowd of analysts and journalists, checking out both its exterior lines and its soft-touch instrument panel, door trim and other improved features.
The Dart — unveiled Jan. 9 and due to go on sale later this year as Chrysler Group LLC's new small car — takes advantage both of improved processing techniques and an increased understanding of ways to use materials.
A PVC skin is cut and sewn onto key
spots like the instrument panel and center console, using vacuum forming and a 12-millimeter foam behind the skin. Rather than imitate the look of wood or aluminum on trim around the instrument cluster, the Dart has pops of bright color to set them off.
Chrysler developed the grain pattern for the tooling to help the surfaces resist scratches.
To get a high-gloss finish on the trim, Chrysler is using a paint-in-mold finishing system, rather than relying on molded-in-color design.
Busse noted that the improvements also come on a lower-priced car, with starting prices a little less than $16,000.
“You can only imagine what we will be delivering on something that's $20,000, $30,000 or $40,000 in the future if this is in a car that is as affordable as a Dart,” he said. “It can only give you an idea of what we might do in the future for premium cars.”