When you go to the Faurecia (faurecia.com) showroom in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Olivier Boinais, industrial design manager, and his colleague Jay Hutchins, director of Marketing & Product Planning, Interior Systems, start talking about “Qi.” Which is initially confusing, because they’re pointing to a model of an instrument panel, not referencing ancient Greece or Chinese culture. But it becomes clear that it is closer to the latter than the former, as the Chinese “qi” refers to a natural energy source, and the Qi they’re talking about has to do with energy, but in the form of an inductive wireless charging system that has been developed and codified by the Wireless Charging Consortium (wirelesschargingconsortium.com).
And you think you’re there to learn about interiors. (And while on the subject of things global, Faurecia is headquartered in France.)
But a critically important part of developing interior systems, you learn, has to do with addressing the infotainment needs of automotive customers.
The instrument panel in question is named “Smart Dock.” There are two horizontal brackets in the central area of the IP. These brackets move up and down, thereby providing the means by which both smartphones and phablets can be held in place. (The Qi system is behind the surface of the IP, so the inductive charging occurs as the device is in position.)
“In other regions of the world,” Hutchins says, “lower-cost vehicles may not have a full entertainment system.” They may not have any entertainment system. “But even though the drivers may have lower-cost vehicles, they are still carrying around smartphones and tablets. So they can dock their device. It can actually run an entertainment system. The vehicle would still have an amplifier and speakers, but not a head unit.” This would require there to be a Bluetooth or NFC (near-field communications device), as the phone or phablet wouldn’t be plug-connected to anything. “When connected with 3G or 4G, it could also be used to run navigation.”
The point here is that given that people already have a media device, why replicate it in the car? Boinais points out that, for example, in Brazil, it is essentially the case where “Everyone has a smartphone and smaller, more economical cars that don’t have a lot of electronics.” So there is a question raised: “What do you need in the car, and what can you put into the car?” It may be that people can bring in their devices that are then leveraged through other means like Qi, Bluetooth and NFC.
Of course, there are a number of vari-ables that need to be addressed, not the least of which is safety: The locking of a device in place is essential given that it would be troublesome were it to go flying around the cabin in the case of a collision.
In some regards, an approach that Faurecia is taking toward interior designs is minimal yet maximum. This is evident in the case of its Performance 2.0 interior concept. “Lower segment vehicles,” says Boinais, “A and B classes, are very sad on the interior, to say the least.” So the approach that they’re taking is, in effect, to in his words “move the money around on the vehicle to do things differently.” So one thing that has been eliminated is the traditional gauge cluster. Instead, there is a heads-up display (HUD) unit that projects the important driving parameters. Typically, when HUD units are in vehicles, the information is redundant. There is a retractable 8-in. touch screen in the area where the infotainment system is usually located, that can provide any additional driver information as well as provide additional functionally, from audio to navigation to HVAC.
The functions of the car are predicated on identification via a smartphone that is paired with the car. When the vehicle “recognizes” the phone, then its systems are activated, in much the same way that some of today’s vehicles recognize a keyfob and allow the doors to be opened and the pushbutton starter to be engaged.
But additionally, the idea here is that the phone, which is stored in the center console that features a wireless charging pad and NFC, would then have its screen mirrored on the central touch screen through a function they call “mirror link.” Because there are concerns with distracted driving, the information displayed would be vetted so that the driver gets the information necessary for controlling the vehicle. The smartphone would also be capable of connecting with tablets that are mounted on the headrests of the front seats. There is, of course, a Qi charging system in the headrests.
One of the things that’s absent from the Performance 2.0 interior: knobs. Boinais and Hutchins both agree that there is an interesting debate at present regarding which is the better approach to controlling things like audio and HVAC. “A knob is pretty practical,” Boinais admits, then adds, “But a swipe is also practical.”
They believe that it may be that the proliferation of smartphones and tablets and the consequent familiarity with swiping versus turning or pushing may tip the scales in the direction of swiping.
According to IT research and advisory company Gartner (gartner.com), in 2013 worldwide smartphone sales were 968-million units, accounting for 53.6% of all mobile phone sales. In addition to which, there were, the company says, 195.4-million tablets sold globally in 2013. Which means well over a billion people in the world are swiping.
What’s more, this plays right into the Faurecia approach of leveraging the smartphone and the tablet to the advantage of the car buyer.