From pop-up navigation systems and music storing hard drives to self-heating cup warmers — carmakers are emphasizing interior design in a bid to make their vehicles stand out in a homogeneous and crowded market.
Designers at this week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit said that customers now expect more from an interior, including at least some high tech gadgetry and other extras, whether they are buying a luxury car or an entry-level vehicle.
Mike Jackson, chief executive officer of AutoNation Inc., the largest U.S. automotive dealer group, said that so many carmakers offer cutting-edge exteriors that there is parity in quality and interiors offer an opportunity to stand out from the pack.
"If you don't have a first-rate interior, the consumer is so mobile and has so many choices, you're going to lose them, and I think everybody understands that," he said. "It's the design, the layout, the functionality and ease of use."
Extras include LED lighting, USB ports
The inside extras can run the gamut, from ambient or LED lighting to USB ports in sound systems to cup holders that can heat or cool drinks. Designers are also looking at replacing plastic with softer materials and improving seating quality.
Peter Lawlis, now the director of design for Cadillac exteriors, was in charge of a major interior redesign of the Cadillac CTS that was introduced at the show.
Some high-tech wizardry can be found inside the CTS, which will be available in the fall as a 2008 model, such as integrated iPod capability and a hidden navigation screen that rises into view when needed.
Alongside that technological power, GM is touting its more prosaic "cut-and-sew" interior process that it says uses advanced technology to eliminate gaps and seams in coverings for CTS components such as the instrument panel, centre console and door trim that are cut, sewn and wrapped by hand.
Ford syncs accessories with cars
Ford Motor Co. fired the latest volley in the car-electronics wars on Sunday when it announced Sync, an in-dash networking system for autos co-developed by Microsoft Corp. that will be available in a dozen 2008 models.
Among other things, Sync allows drivers, using either voice recognition or steering wheel controls, to listen to their iPods and all other digital music players or hear messages that were converted to audio after being sent as text to their cellphones. Company officials said it probably will be an option that costs less than $1,000 US.