Advancement in materials is helping component part suppliers to develop auto interiors that are aesthetic yet functional. Suppliers are also gearing up to meet new requirements of car makers in India.
Automotive interiors have played second fiddle to the exteriors in the past. As a result, exterior designers were given high preference over the interior designers. Things are changing. It's not that exteriors are now given a secondary place when it comes to car designing. Rather, interiors are becoming more important.
Materials for comfortable drive
Today, consumers spend lot of time inside their vehicles, making comfort a top-most priority for car designers and makers. This has propelled research in developing materials that are not only of good quality, but also gives high-level comfort to the consumers.
“Materials technology is key to enabling some of the expectations from the end customer such as light weighting, soft touch, various aesthetic finishes, mood lighting, improved haptics, etc. Chemical foaming agents and nanotechnology are some of the ways in which traditional materials are being enhanced to reduce the overall component weight. Many surface enhancing technologies are being introduced to improve the overall aesthetics inside the vehicle including the use of real wood and soft touch paints,” opines Gajanan Gandhe, Senior Vice President, Asia Operations, International Automotive Components (IAC).
Automotive interior materials include fabrics, vinyls, thermoplastic polymers and different forms of leather. In all types of vehicles, synthetic leather is widely used in automotive interiors. The market for synthetic leather is large because it is cheap, easily available, easy to clean, and has an appearance similar to genuine leather. The market for this type of segment is further expanding as synthetic leather can be customised and moulded into various shapes, sizes, and patterns.
As a result of its sheer size, passenger vehicles segment is the leading consumer of automotive interior materials. Factors such as high living standards, growing economy and higher incomes are driving the demand for passenger vehicles in India. In addition, the need for comfortable and safe commute is growing and hence the market of passenger vehicles is expected to grow. This is further expected to drive the demand for auto interior materials. Consumers demand affordable interior materials that are easy to maintain and attractive.
According to a Reportlinker report, “Automotive interior materials such as genuine leather and vinyls are expensive, thus cannot be incorporated in economy cars. Moreover, such materials involve high cost and frequent maintenance that do not serve as a feasible option for a large number of buyers present in developing nations. Excluding the high-end automobile users, majority of consumers prefer affordable and attractive interior materials in their vehicles such as artificial or polyurethane (PU) leather, synthetic leather and different shades of fabric.”
Technology in demand
India’s annual production stood at 25.31 million vehicles (including passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, three wheelers, two wheelers and quadricycle) in 2016-17 as against 23.96 million in 2015-16, registering a 5.6 percent Y-o-Y growth, according to CARE Ratings. Riding on this growth, manufacturers of auto parts, including those which are used in auto interiors, have been able to increase their profit margins.
The car’s interior, which until recently was a relatively stable component in terms of engineering and value to automobile, has now become a place where technology development is leading to ambitious enhancements in safety and entertainment. New technologies such as 3D laminated glass, haptic sensors, and augmented reality heads-up displays - which offer drivers alerts, safety aids, and warnings on invisible screens embedded in the windshield - have entered the vocabulary of traditional suppliers.
“Large navigation and entertainment display screens in the dashboard offer web-based information and media as well as data arrays picked up from networked roads and other cars,” said a PwC report.
Interiors gaining centre stage
Global suppliers of parts and accessories for car interiors are eyeing the growing automotive market in India. Take the example of International Automotive Components (IAC), which opened an engineering centre in Pune in June 2017 to cater to automakers in India. The centre will meet the interior requirements for automakers along with other needs of their customers.
Gajanan Gandhe informs, “The India Engineering Center of IAC (with over 150 engineers) handles everything from helping its customers with styling inputs and modifications to detailed CAD designs followed by CAE analysis to verify the performance even prior to cutting any tools. This significantly reduces the development time required for the programs. For the Indian customers, the primary benefits of using a localised design and engineering centre are speed of execution and cost management, all with first time right quality at a world class level.”
The major trends driving the global automotive interiors business are light weighting, electronics and functional integration, mood lighting, soft touch and sculptured interiors.
“We believe that India is going to leapfrog many of the typical progressions seen by the western OEMs and an increasing number of OEMs will start catering to the higher expectations of the customers while continuing to develop mass market products for the entry level customers. IAC is actively working on many programs with Indian OEMs that will introduce some of the latest innovations in technology and processes for the interiors,” says Gandhe.
Consumers want interiors that make driving easier and safer thus resulting in car manufacturers working closely with seating and airbag suppliers to ensure safe journey of the customer.
Major automotive players and the Indian government, through its several initiatives, are taking steps to achieve India’s ambitious goal to become a leader in the global two-wheel and four-wheel market by 2020. In addition, a strong export growth is expected in the near future. With growing customer expectations and an uptick in export demand, Indian car seats and interior manufacturers have to overcome many challenges such as the need to optimise production processes, safeguard margins, guarantee quality, enhance competitiveness and ensure sustainable growth.
For example, the French company Lectra, the provider of laser airbag cutting solution that is used by global airbag cushion suppliers, has adopted new strategy to help manufacturers embrace Industry 4.0 and their transformation to smart, connected factories. Lectra’s innovative services, coupled with its business expertise, enable customers to optimise their fabric and leather cutting processes and maximise productivity.
Similarly, in October last year, Michigan (USA) based Inteva Products inaugurated the upgraded technical centre, which is capable of conducting all the activities of a new product from scratch, in Bangalore. The centre will focus on developing advanced technologies in roof systems, closures, and motors and electronics for Inteva’s global customers.
Offering more in less
Auto manufacturers have to invest in upgrading interiors specifically for the price-conscious customers in India. According to Mordor Intelligence reports, in order to meet the need for creating fuel-efficient and lightweight systems, manufacturers are coming up with a lightweight material to use in the automotive interiors and this represents a big driver for the market.
Passenger vehicle sales in India crossed the three million milestone for the first time in 2016-17, with the segment witnessing a growth of 9.23 per cent. Passenger cars hold the largest share in the automotive interiors market on account of features and quality rich interiors. With the sales of passenger vehicles expected to record the highest level of growth by 2022, suppliers are likely to reap rich dividend.
There are several factors influencing interior design and fuel efficiency is chief among them. Automakers are trying to offer more features in less space, ie increasing interior decor without compromising on fuel economy. Manufacturers are concentrating on efforts to produce light-in-weight and efficient automotive interior materials to reduce the weight of vehicles and improve the fuel efficiency.
In addition, automakers are feeling increased regulatory pressure (in terms of light-weighting, better noise and vibration insulations, etc). Suppliers are helping these manufacturers with their automotive interior components. For example, IAC has introduced many new technologies to help automakers meet their overall weight targets. The use of chemical foaming agents and glass reinforcements can help reduce the weight of certain components by 20-30 percent. IAC has also introduced the hybrid technology in sunroof frames using glass reinforced fibers which can reduce the weight of that component over 40 per cent.
“Other applications such as composite front- end modules produced by IAC for some Indian vehicles have not only helped reduce weight but also combine many parts into one single part. For improving the interior acoustics, IAC India offers a multitude of products in headliners and inside of instrument panels, doors and consoles that significantly enhance the interior acoustics,” opines Gandhe.
New and improved, attractive automotive interior materials are redefining the consumers' preference and helping manufacturers in differentiating their materials from other brands.
At the same time, consumers want entertainment and communication devices to be incorporated into their cars, with a need for plug-in socket inside the vehicle. In fact, advances in entertainment and communication technology are influencing the way automakers view interiors as a whole.
Due to rising customer expectations and fierce competition, a higher number of car manufacturers are offering infotainment systems in even entry-level cars. This will boost the infotainment market and as a result, the infotainment systems sub-category will be the fastest growing.
Autonomous car to drive innovation
The autonomous car will dramatically change the look of car interiors. In an autonomous car, the customer does not have to drive. Passengers will like to spend their time productively or just relax. It will change the ‘living space’ dimension of automotive interiors. The front seat may be reoriented to face the back seat, so passengers can converse as they would in their living rooms while the car cruises to a destination. Or seats could face a windshield that’s become a large movie screen.
To take advantage of this trend, automotive component major Faurecia, a part of PSA Group, is planning to develop a new portfolio of products for interiors in connected and autonomous cars in India. From 2015 to 2020, the company - which operates interiors, emission technology and seating business units - expects to double its sales and grow its headcount from 1,800 to 5,000 people in India.
Growth plans for interior components
The Indian automotive market is expected to double from three million vehicles to six million vehicles by 2020. With the increased regulatory and consumer requirements for improved fuel efficiency, interior comfort, fit and finish and high-quality expectations, India offers huge market for component suppliers. In addition, entry of new overseas players in auto manufacturing will result in rise in demand for latest technology and design requirements for interiors. These developments are enabling suppliers to expand their capacities and offerings to customers in the country.
“ With the headquarter and engineering centre in Pune fully operational and two new plants being setup by the end of this year in Manesar and Nashik, IAC India will continue to support its customers growth with the latest innovations in design and process technologies. Additionally, as new OEMs from Europe, Korea and China establish their presence in India, IAC will leverage its presence in these markets to support their growth in India,” says Gandhe.
India is estimated to be the fastest-growing auto market in the world till 2021, mainly due to the rapid economic growth and increasing population that is driving the demand for automotive interior materials in India. Application of green technology in automotive leather materials is increasing and the advent of new segments of vehicles such as hybrid and EV are expected to drive the overall market of automotive interiors.
While the exterior draws people to the car, it is the interior that closes the deal. In order to propel sales, automakers will have to develop interiors that are cozy as well as functional.