TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Johnson Controls is experimenting with car interior surfaces that could change colors to match the motorist's whim.
The concept could prove especially useful for vehicles that are used by ride-sharing services, said Han Hendriks, vice president of advanced product development at Johnson Controls Inc. Hendriks spoke today on the sidelines of the 2014 Management Briefing Seminars.
Hendriks said researchers are developing plastic surfaces that can change color. They are also working on odor filters. The idea is to minimize any traces left behind by the vehicle's previous user.
Hendriks' product research team conducts its work primarily in three technical centers located in Dusseldorf, Shanghai and Holland, Mich. The team is part of JCI's newly formed $7.5 billion-a-year joint venture with Yanfeng Automotive Trim Systems Co.
Johnson Controls will have a 30 percent share in that partnership, which will market instrument panels, door panels and other interior components.
While color-changing interior surfaces could be classified as "what-if" technologies, Hendriks' unit is engaged in more immediate research. For example, Hendriks is sorting out the preferences of China's growing cadre of luxury car owners.
A couple of examples: Chinese motorists prefer to have storage bins designed to hold specific accessories, such as a smart phone or sun glasses -- rather than general purpose bins.
Another example: older Chinese luxury car owners prefer to be chauffeured, so automakers cater to them with extended-wheelbase sedans with a lavish rear compartment.
But younger motorists -- born in the 1980s or later -- prefer to drive themselves, Hendriks noted. So Hendriks expects younger buyers will have preferences more closely aligned with their peers in Europe and North America.