Into the future of car interiors

While it is difficult to assess trends for automotive interiors, some developments appear certain.

A decade from now, some models will offer buyers so much choice that quite possibly no two interiors will be identical. Audi has begun to experiment with customizing interiors with its A6 sedan. Buyers can choose one of three interiors that cost the same but have different personalities.

Automakers also are experimenting with instrument panels that can be reconfigured. These panels allow owners to change the colors and fonts of the gauges of the family car to suit individual tastes. Each driver can choose to see or not see the gauges, depending on his or her preference for voice commands.

Customizing will take two forms. Automakers will build it into the cars — as with configurable displays — and motorists will add accessories after they purchase the car.

More efficient use of interior space will be a top priority. Mechanical items such as a vehicle’s heating and air conditioning — which consume up to one-third of the instrument panel’s precious space — will be moved to less crowded locations. For example, air ducts could be routed through the floor, while the controls are left on the instrument panel.

The conversion of mechanical components to electronic also will create more space. Steer-by-wire, for example, would eliminate the need for a steering column. In vehicles aimed at young motorists, look for steering wheels to be replaced by joysticks.

To create more interior space, automakers will miniaturize components whenever possible. For example, automakers might downsize the powertrain by designing compact fuel cells. That would allow automakers to expand the cabin, creating room for a limousine-style rear seat.

To add space, designers are experimenting with ways to make seats. Lear Corp. has developed seats that use webbing instead of foam. That frees space underneath the seats, creating a light, airy interior.

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