California Autos Examiner

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Future of the automobile: Visiting with automotive supplier Faurecia

Faurecia Sustainable Comfort Seat (photo by: msheena)

Recently I had the opportunity to visit with automotive supplier Faurecia to discuss some of their latest innovations.
I always enjoy finding out what automotive suppliers are up to because it gives me a unique window into future automotive developments that we will see on the road in two to four years..
In Faurecia's case, it continues to develop interiors, front ends and emissions control devices that are  lighter and less polluting.  Take for example the Sustainable Comfort Seat concept.  The seat itself is lighter, which helps keep overall vehicle weight down, but also has less deep which allows for more interior room or shorter vehicle length.  The seat has done away with foam and uses a gel like substance not unlike that in a running shoe. The gel doesn't have the same VOC issues that  traditional foam does.  The seat has a very cool, iPod-inspired look to it and features nifty integrated lighting.  Adding a touch of class, the seat demonstrated to me featured Faurecia's Ligneos wood grain that uses a natural-fiber-based substrate with a traditional wood veneer.  You might hear the word veneer and be skeptical, but I can tell you from first hand that it is an attractive finish that does not involve denuding rain forests.  Faurecia was coy about which automakers have signed up for the technology demonstrated in this seat, but if a wink is as good as a nudge, then we should see this seat around 2014.  I took several shots of the seat performing its tricks and you can check it out in this linked slideshow.

Speaking of the Ligneos wood fiber technology, Faurecia has used wood fibers in vehicle parts for years:  They absorb sound and are relatively lightweight.  What is changing now is that Faurecia is asking, what if we did not cover up the wood fiber with fabric or other materials but rather "celebrated" the material as an interior component by staining, painting or even exposing the wood fiber skin?  Less plastic means less resin used in an interior, then subsequently less oil used in manufacturing the vehicle.  Seems like a pretty important goal and one that would be readily appreciated by "green" consumers.

The backseat was not forgotten either, as Faurecia was displaying a new plastic structural carrier that replaces the conventional wire frame.  What does that mean?  Well instead of making thick cushions around wire coils, the seats are thinner and allow for more interior volume. In addition, you can add trick features like cushions that remove to reveal hidden compartments in the carrier or integrated cup-holders and that is just for starters.  Once designers are given this canvas, you can expect all sorts of cool features.  For example, I would images that swapping out seating to add a fresh look to the interior would be much more feasible if the cushions could easily be removed.

One of the Faurecia representatives I spoke with brought up an interesting point:  The back of the front seat headrest is really like a "second instrument panel" for the rear seat passengers.  Up until now, there have been very few applications that took advantage of this space, but that is all set to change.  Faurecia showed several different looks for a small, compact headrest unit that was lighter in weight, more recyclable and offered manufactures the ability to easily "snap in" various modules without massive tooling changes.  Want a plain, black unit for a base model?  Bam!  Change out the black trim with for a real wood piece, built-in coat hanger or a monitor?  Zap!  That kind of flexibility will bring down costs and offer up a whole range of new features for this underutilized area.

Faurecia is a supplier for the Ford Fiesta and they were very impressed with Ford's specifications for the instrument panel.  They even brought in a Fiesta instrument panel to show it off (see the slideshow below).  As you may know, suppliers only manufacture what automakers specify:  No more, no less.  Ford sprung for higher end materials on the dash on the Fiesta, offering a "soft touch" surface, an added luxury that you do not see on many cars that begin in the low teens.

While I visited with Faurecia, they showed me some other products that they produce, I snapped photos of them and you can check it out in this linked slideshow!

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