DETROIT – Auto makers in both Europe and North America are eager to apply elements of Faurecia SA’s concept for interchangeable interior trim components, says an executive of Europe’s largest interiors supplier.
Dubbed “Happy Attitude,” Faurecia’s concept in a production Nissan Micra city car allows multiple options for consumers who want to personalize their cabins to better suit personal tastes and moods.
Seat covers are switched easily with the use of zippers, and Velcro straps hold the fabric in place to prevent slipping. Armrests on the doors also are interchangeable, snapping in and out of position with ease. Fabric inserts zip in and out of door panels, revealing a clever storage bin.
The skin on the instrument panel also can be swapped. Demonstrating the range of potential variability, Faurecia (pronounced For-EE-see-ya) mounts different types of skin to a plastic substrate that fastens to the structure of the instrument panel.
Each skin for the concept is different: hard fabric, soft fabric, polyurethane foam and polypropylene. The soft-fabric skin comes with wild multi-color graphics applied with digital printing.
Certain elements of the concept already are validated and production ready, including the embossed seat covers, says Andreas Wlasak, Faurecia’s vice president-industrial design.
Based on customer interest, Wlasak says he is confident elements of the strategy will appear in production vehicles in the near future.
“I didn’t expect there to be a big pull for this in North America, but there has been tremendous interest in it from North American OEMs,” Wlasak says.
A few weeks ago, Faurecia had a private showing of the Happy Attitude concept at the General Motors Corp. Technical Center in Warren, MI, that was heavily attended by the auto maker’s purchasing and engineering departments, as well as top management.
“(GM Chairman and CEO) Rick Wagoner sat in the passenger seat for 20 minutes, and I almost ran out of things to tell him about it (the concept car),” Wlasak says with a chuckle.
GM’s interest in Happy Attitude demonstrates how eager auto makers are to offer something truly unique to consumers.
Faurecia’s design concept appears to be aimed at compact, youth-oriented cars. Younger buyers are proving to be fascinated with interchangeability. If two friends buy identical cars, they could swap pieces when the mood strikes, Wlasak suggests.
“The consumer dimension requires that we do personalization like this,” he says.
But on the other hand, buyers of compact cars are notoriously frugal. Could they afford the cost of such cosmetic luxuries? And would auto makers, always focused on the bottom line and struggling to make money on small cars anyway, ultimately decide the idea just adds too much cost?
Wlasak insists the concept can be deployed cost effectively and is “easily affordable” in any vehicle segment.
“We can still stay within the cost parameters for a vehicle program,” Wlasak says. “Purchasing (departments) will consider the full value of this, and OEMs know consumers want choice.”
In Europe, the Peugeot 1007, which launched last year, offers 12 color trim packages that are swapped easily, much like in the Happy Attitude.
And when it was first introduced, the Smart Fortwo in Europe came available with interchangeable exterior body panels. Consumer response was tepid because storing the panels when not in use was problematic.
Wlasak says the Happy Attitude concept will not face that challenge because the interchangeable parts are easily stashed in the trunk, with the exception of the instrument panel skin. The zip-in sections also are machine-washable for convenient cleanup, he says.
Integrating the concept for an existing vehicle program is possible, but difficult. Wlasak says the smarter approach is to apply Happy Attitude to new vehicle programs. Faurecia designers spent about four months on the concept and completed the development entirely in a digital environment.
In addition, the concept only works with Faurecia parts. In other words, if an auto maker wants to use the interchangeable components for special-edition versions, then Faurecia must supply the base seats, instrument panel and/or door trim for the rest of the vehicle platform.