Invisible A-pillars, hidden air vents, moving floor consoles, power rotating seats, color-changing overheads, and other non-traditional interior features will soon redefine the vehicle cabin.
“The most significant interior trend is that the vehicle cabin is becoming the next living space,” said Johannes Roters, CEO of Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, adding that the cabin changes are an outgrowth of autonomous driving, shared mobility.
Roters and Nathan Bowen, Yanfeng’s Vice President & General Manager of the Americas, recently spoke with Automotive Engineering inside the company’s new 93,000 ft2 Novi, MI, facility.
Vehicle interiors may become a haven of smart surfaces. It’s a vision underscored by Yanfeng’s eXperience in Motion (XiM 18) concept car, which depicts cabin surfaces as interactive touch-points for occupants. “We are creating a different environment inside of the car through smart surface technology,” Roters said.
While the XiM18 uses glass as the smart surface cover, other materials could be possible options as the technology progresses. The creation of a smart surface requires a PCB assembly, a lighting source and a cover surface. “One of the challenges is the material needs to have read-through capability, otherwise you’re pressing on a piece of wood, fabric, or other material without the ability to see the function target,” explained Bowen.
Safety is a top priority for engineers as occupants engage with smart surfaces from various seating positions. For instance, front seats in the XiM18 can rotate inward and slide rearward. The XiM18 concept has a camera that "takes ongoing pictures of where occupants are,” said Roters. That information will be useful in the development of next-generation safety systems.
The answer for how to protect an occupant who could be facing forward, rearward, or somewhere in between won’t be solved by a single entity. “The OEMs still have a critical role to play,” noted Bowen, “But when Yenfeng says, ‘This specific functionality is available,’ we also have to be able to say, ‘Here’s how you could conceptually make safety work within this [autonomous driving] space.”
Interior fit and finish will be just as important for an autonomous driving vehicle as it is on a conventional passenger vehicle.
“When you open the car door, you see the design and you want to be excited by this living space. When you touch a surface, you want the ‘feel’ of that material, whether it’s wood, leather, plastic, or something else. And the material should have a function, such as reducing vehicle mass or being a smart surface,” Roters said.
Yanfeng’s XiM18 included contributions from Adient (seats) and Kostal (electro-mechanical components). More than 60% of the new content on the XiM18 is production-ready, he said.
“Our strategy is to create this new living space with partnerships to bring different technologies into the vehicle,” Roters asserted. "We are excited about the future of vehicle interiors.”