In the cockpit of the future, passengers will recline on seats made from sustainable materials, bristling with hidden sensors that will anticipate their perfect temperature, their favorite songs and even when a sore back might be impending.
In front of them, pillar-to-pillar screens will bring the home entertainment experience into the car, while augmented-reality displays built into the windshield show the nearest restaurant or warn of bad weather ahead.
A vision of a coming reality, or wishful thinking?
A truly reimagined cockpit might be decades away, suppliers and experts say, but there are small revolutions happening in every part of the interior that are fundamentally changing the nature of the mobility experience — and offering new and larger revenue streams.
They are being driven by several trends: Increasingly sophisticated consumer electronics; electrification; high-performance, centralized computing; and the promise of self-driving vehicles.
Taken together, these trends are shifting the value in the vehicle from the drivetrain to the interior — in particular, the user experience, or UX.
"UX is the new horsepower, so automakers are investing more and more in the interior" said Ulrich Lueders, the head of strategy and portfolio at Continental's human-machine interface business unit. "The design of the interior is getting more and more important, whereas in the past the engine was the main differentiator."
Continental's "cockpit of the future" is focused on what's in front of the driver: the instrument panel, screens, head-up displays and the electronics that power them.
Lear Chief Technology Officer John Absmeier agrees. "It's no longer differentiation through horsepower or aesthetics, although those are still important for consumers," he said. "The battleground for differentiation is in the cockpit experience, if you will, the cockpit of the future."
Lear is seeking ways to pack more technology into seating to improve configurability, modularity, health and wellness, comfort and safety. And through its recent acquisition of Xevo, Lear is providing connected services such as contactless in-vehicle ordering, for example, through a new collaboration with Grubhub for Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles in North America.
Faurecia, which supplies a variety of interior components, has made "cockpit of the future" something of a tagline, but it is a key part of its business strategy, said Gregoire Ferre, vice president, cockpit of the future, digital transformation and artificial intelligence.
"We are not trying to take a siloed approach on one product," he said. "We are trying to bring 'systems of systems' in place to enhance the end-user experience."
Among Faurecia's cutting-edge offerings are Trenza, a graphical user interface (GUI) that lets users access menus using finger swipes; a partnership with Aptoide, an independent app store, that will appear on Volkswagen Group vehicles in South America; and a new acquisition, IRYStec, which optimizes screen consumption of electricity and lighting levels.
Sustainability is also a critical subject, for consumers, automakers, suppliers and the investment markets. Grupo Antolin, the Spanish supplier of interior panels, is focused on integration, with sustainability as a guiding principle.
For example, Javier Villacampa, head of corporate innovation at Grupo Antolin, notes that while integrating components into a panel might reduce the opportunities for recycling that may be offset by reduction in weight, packaging and transport. "The best way to be sustainable is to offer fewer materials," he said.