Vehicle interiors have taken on new prominence over the last few years.
Luxury cars have always touted finer finishes, but these days some poorly placed plastic can make or break even an economy car, sending designers scurrying back for unplanned updates.
So much importance is placed on interiors in this marketplace that some vehicles are shown without the interior, rather than risk rushing its release. An example is the 2015 Acura TLX Concept, which made its world debut in Detroit last month with smoked windows deliberately obscuring what was inside.
On the other hand, some makers attach so much significance to the inside of the car their displays include disembodied interiors for an unobstructed look. Volvo’s XC Coupe Concept and Chrysler’s 2015 Chrysler 200 displays in Detroit were prime examples.
Taking that one step further, Audi actually debuted the “virtual cockpit” and the next Audi TT interior without the car at last month’s CES consumer electronics exhibition in Las Vegas.
Indeed, car interiors are not just about comfy seats anymore. Considering the majority of time you interact with your car is in the interior, the attention is justified. Al Gardner, president and CEO of the Chrysler brand, summed up the goals for the 2015 Chrysler 200 interior as having emotional design impact, high quality materials, state of the art technology and thoughtful storage. It appears most automakers would agree.
Klaus Busse, head of interior design for Chrysler Group LLC, is one of today’s most influential interior designers. When interviewed about his work on the groundbreaking Ram 1500, he said “interiors are the new battleground.” That has certainly proven true.
At this summer’s media launch of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, Busse presented a new level of artistry. There are several nods to the 1941 Willys Jeep, but the design is thoroughly modern. Busse said he sought a “constructed and sculptured” appearance, exhibiting a “human touch” where “straight lines are blended in with a nice radius.”
Cary Bosak, president of Bosak Motor Sales said customers respond favorably to Chrysler Group’s interior designs.
“Everything seems to flow,” he said. “It makes sense. The big screens are easy to deal with.”
Busse also has taken a unique approach to choosing color palettes, by naming the interiors after exotic locations. For example the “Iceland” interior features grays and black inspired by Nordic fashion. The Chrysler 200 takes a similar approach drawing inspiration from various cities such as Detroit and Manhattan.
As the flagship luxury brand, Cadillac has become a showcase for improved materials across all GM brands.
“When the XTS came out in 2012 as a 2013 model, we could tell Cadillac had really stepped up their game,” said Jason Boone, sales manager at Schepel Cadillac. “Then the ATS came out and they stepped it up even further. The 2014 upgrade for the XTS was even better.
"But when the CTS came out it was unbelievable. It was a night and day difference. It’s hands-down the best car we’ve ever seen from Cadillac," he said. "If it looks and feels like leather, then it’s leather. If it looks like metal, it’s metal. The wood trim is real wood. People who have been driving Cadillacs for decades are blown away by the quality and amenities.”
Audi will be the first automaker to introduce integrated 4G LTE connectivity in the 2015 Audi A3. Customers will be offered a shared data plan with AT&T mobile phones or tablets. Audi has been offering 3G already, bringing in such advances as a Google Maps overlay on the navigation system for real-world images of where you are driving.
Scott Keogh, president of Audi of America, said at the CES announcement, “Offering drivers a 4G LTE connection will provide the fastest in-vehicle connection available and significantly enhance the infotainment experience.”
General Motors also will be rolling out 4G LTE connectivity on a number of upcoming models. Boone said a Wi-Fi hot spot has been available from GM for a couple of years, but there hasn’t been that much interest in it since so many people already have smartphones or tablets. As far as the 4G LTE option, he says he can see the appeal for certain customers.
“Someone like a traveling salesperson. Someone who really lives in their car and can make use of the bandwidth,” he said.
Mark Bilek, director of communications and technology for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, highly recommends checking out the Connected World pavilion for a number of exhibits to help you “understand how the smart phone connects to your car, to your home, and to all our lives.”
Busse said storage can be tricky because designers tend to want a clean-looking interior, resulting in closed storage areas.
“We try to design open storage,” he explained. “It’s better to design open storage than closed storage that is always open.”
He detailed how working with engineers early in the design process yielded some extra storage. The Cherokee has no CD player, so the center display screen is only 1 inch thick. This yielded room for a compartment accessible from the top of the instrument panel. The choice was made to use a vertically mounted HVAC unit behind the dashboard, allowing space for larger gloveboxes.
Similarly, the Chrysler 200s use of an electronic rotary gear selector opened up space for extra storage volume in the console.
The Chicago Auto Show offers the biggest selection of vehicle interiors you can try on for size and make side-by-side comparisons. You can try out the technology and feel the high quality materials for yourself.