As consumer expectations evolve, “we have to integrate more and more functions and abilities,” she said.
Reinforced carbon fiber and other plastics give designers more creative freedom, opening the possibilities of transmitting data, integrating lights and sensors and even embedding solar cells in the structure of the car, she said.
Autonomous cars will create a completely different set of consumer expectations for their vehicles, said Peter Fuss, senior advisory partner in automotive at Ernst & Young.
“Interiors will have to be completely redesigned,” said Fuss, who predicts personal cars will become like “third living rooms” for drivers, who will seek out greater personalization, individualization and comfort.
Anticipating not just what consumers want but what they actually need is key to providing the mobility solutions of the future, said Geet Jan Schellekens, senior manager of industrial design-global technology automotive at Saudi Basic Industries Corp.
With 3 billion vehicles expected on the roads around the world by 2050 — and one-quarter of them electric by 2025 — sustainability concerns are shaping consumer choices and governmental regulations around the world, Schellekens said, and designers sometimes have to take matters into their own hands, take initiative within industry to anticipate an automotive market segment's needs.
“How do we turn challenges into opportunities? Today we are turning more and more to a synergetic approach, working with the OEM and the suppliers, the materials suppliers and the tier suppliers, from every step,” he said. “You can only innovate if you collaborate these days.”
Sabic went beyond the new plastics industry mantra of involving designers early and through every step of a new product or component. It got its designers and materials engineers together ahead of the entire manufacturing process, producing a massive study on how an extended frontal overhang could make trucks more aerodynamic to meet new European fuel-efficiency standards.
“We were ready for the discussion when they came to us with their challenges,” Schellekens said. The result, 20 months after the back-of-the-napkin drawings and calculations, is an aerodynamics-defying truck scoop for heavy-duty, long-haul trucks currently in testing on the highways of Ohio and Texas.
Designed for injection molding fabrication but initially 3-D printed at 1/8 scale for wind tunnel testing, the scoop is so far producing a 2 percent fuel reduction — which might sound small for a family car, but when such trucks are consuming 20 percent of the fuel in North America, the savings will add up quickly.
And be it commercial vehicles or personal cars, fuel efficiency through lightweighting isn't going away any time soon. But, as BMW's Schaer said, the vehicles still have to look as cool and “premium” as possible, no matter the material.
The Design Chain conference, was sponsored by Plastics News Europe. Conference chair Chris Lefteri, director of Chris Lefteri Design Ltd., called the event “speed dating for between materials and design people.”