Monday, December 1, 2008

Individualizing small-car interiors at Ford


Automotive News
December 1, 2008 - 1:20 pm ET

Ernst Reim, Ford of Europe's interior design chief, says the outlook is strong for smaller cars. Beyond fuel efficiency, he says, buyers are turning to small-segment cars as a way to express their personal lifestyles in ways they wouldn't or couldn't do with a larger vehicle. One example is buying a Fiesta painted in hot magenta.

Ford has seized on the trend with new colors, design cues and by allowing buyers to individualize their new Fiesta or Ka with flexible interior packages. But, he emphasized in a recent interview with Automobilwoche's Juergen Pander, passenger and driver comfort is still the main hallmark of a good interior.

Small-car interiors have been rather boring, cheap and uninspired. That is now gradually changing. What has happened?

In my view, it has to do with the new importance of subcompacts in the market. Unlike larger vehicles, buyers see B-segment (small-segment) models not so much as a status symbol but more as an accessory and an expression of their personal lifestyle. For example, no one would order an upper-medium Mondeo with the brilliant hot magenta paint available on the new Fiesta. But this lipstick color looks remarkably good on the Fiesta. That is an expression of individuality.

Individuality also is the theme of the interior. What can Ford offer in this regard?

On the new Ka, for example, we offer three different individual styling packages for the first time: Grand Prix, Tattoo and Digital Art. Customers can use these to configure the vehicle and its interior space to their personal tastes. Generally, we are following the trend in mobile telephones. Previously, they also were bare-bones. But now there are dozens of front panels available that make the telephone a personal accessory.

Will the automotive interior of the future have to offer this variation from plain to dazzling?

Yes. For models in the B segment it increasingly will be the case that you can change the character of the vehicle with panels, seat covers, floor mats or small trim parts. Interiors should be constructed so flexibly that it becomes possible to deliver even more opportunities for individuality with decorative elements that are made to be easily replaceable. The aftermarket segment will also be active in this area. I think numerous decorative elements, in the steering wheel, for example, could yet become replaceable. Not the entire steering wheel, mind you, since that would be much too expensive. Safety and ergonomics always need to be at the best possible level in all the variations. That is essential. Individualization also is possible with the design idiom.

How, for example?

With the entire impression of the interior space, for example. The Ford Fiesta and Ka are the models where we have carried over our "kinetic design" from the body to the interior in its most expressive form. That means, for the first time, we are following an identical concept inside and outside. It makes interiors more alive and dynamic.

How do you achieve the lively dynamics?

In the way we produce a proper flow with shaping of the controls area. It pours visually from the windshield to the center console. The effect is supported with coloring and various surfaces and materials. Or the instrument unit: It is no longer sunk deeply into the instrument panel, but set up like a three-dimensional body. In this way, we achieve a better driver orientation at the same time.

In the Fiesta, the new configuration for the radio and the CD player in the center console stands out. What is this about?

In this case, our ergonomics specialists especially played a part. Since the infotainment control element could be separate from the hardware, it could be located in an extremely flat and therefore very user-friendly position. That opened up new configuration opportunities for us as designers.

Where do you see limits for small-car interiors?

Among other things, in the choice of materials and the associated costs. Real metal is naturally very beautiful as a surface material, but it simply is too expensive. Luckily, there are new forms of plastic that can be made to resemble metal with surface treatment, and that can help with weight savings in the bargain.

In general, where do interior designers need to focus even more of their attention in the future?

It is still extremely important for the great mass of customers to be able to sit comfortably in their car. Comfort is still the main criterion. Furthermore, it is essential to simplify controls and to approximate the comfortable ambience of a home in the interior design as much as possible.

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