"Rat fur"-- that's what many in the auto industry dismissively call the ubiquitous fuzzy material used for vehicle headliners.
The average consumer probably doesn't even notice the brushed, felt-like material that is used across the industry.
But a combination of industry trends may change that in the next couple of years. The anonymous headliner increasingly is requiring more design creativity and new materials. Four trends have emerged:
1. Auto designers want a more stylish look on the inside of their roofs. They were inspired by the sporty interior feel of European nameplates such as the Audi A6. When it appeared in the late 1990s, that model featured a stretchy cloth headliner that was light and flexible.
2. More content is being designed into vehicles' roofs -- including electronics, DVD players, larger sunroofs and curtain airbags -- which is creating a demand for more flexible headliner materials that can tuck easily around them.
3. To meet new European regulations on recyclable parts, automakers are taking more interest in less bulky fabrics.
4. The pressure on headliner suppliers to switch to different materials translates to capital investments in textile equipment. And for some suppliers, money for new investment has been tight.