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Corian, a material most often used for kitchen sinks and countertops, and Kevlar, the composite fiber that makes bullet-proof vests bullet proof, may be making their way into automotive interiors within the next five years. DuPont Automotive recently produced six design studies under three major headings—City, Gaia, and Emotion—to highlight the way automakers can use these non-traditional substances to create unique vehicle interiors, showing two variations of each theme; one meant for a truck and the other for a car.
According to Haydon Williams, a consultant retained by DuPont for this project, Corian and Kevlar undoubtedly will be seen in upcoming vehicles for the simple reason that they step outside of the limited materials palette in use today. "The wood, leather, and chrome found in today's interiors are throwbacks to the earliest days of the automobile, when it was little advanced from the carriage trade," he says. "By using modern materials like these, we can more closely match the feel of the interior and exterior designs, and produce the more intimate and natural look the customers want. The effect is more closely related to that found in modern architecture than automotive design."
One example shown—called "Ark" and filed under the Gaia heading—mimicked rock structures. Representing the interior of a large luxury sedan, Ark used a fusion of Corian colors and textures to produce interior trim items that looked like polished, striated stone. Unlike Formica—which is a thin laminate applied over a base material, usually wood—Corian makes this possible because it is a moldable composite material that carries a consistent color throughout. According to William Kings, a DuPont color marketing manager, "The prototype was made from separate pieces of Corian cut and assembled into a single unit. In production, we expect suppliers will create the same effect by using multiple shots of the material in a single process." This will reduce cycle time and increase cost competitiveness. Kings also showed how Corian can be combined with metal inlays to produce a unique dimensional effect. "Adding metal does add another step to the process," he says, "but we are working with interior trim suppliers and molders to simplify the production process."
As for Kevlar, the composite's mechanical properties make it a natural for structures as well as trim, and making possible the seamless combination of the two. "Kevlar can be woven in colors other than the grays and blacks you normally see for composite fiber materials," says Williams, "which means it can be used as an accent, or structural piece, or both." Conceivably, the composite could be used to make strong, lightweight interior door panels with integral attachment points for switches, armrests and contrasting trim pieces, without the need for painting or finishing its surface. In fact, Kings thinks Kevlar has a future in any interior application where durability, shear strength, and style are required. He does concede, however, that Kevlar might have one unintended side effect that could slow its adoption. "The problem," says Kings, "is that the various police agencies aren't keen on us adding bullet resistance to everyday cars. So we'd probably play down that particular attribute."
DuPont expects automakers to begin adopting Corian and Kevlar within the next five years, starting with luxury vehicles and high-line SUVs. "Designers and engineers from DaimlerChrysler, Ford, GM, Jaguar, Volvo, Peugeot, and Renault are discussing ways to adapt the materials, especially Corian, to their future designs," says Kings. Which means tomorrow's cars will have everything and the kitchen sink.