Auto designers speak on the role of materials and design in changing times
We caught up with Stephen Chen, Advanced Design Chief at GAC Automotive Research & Development Center, and his colleague Yan Yu, Chief Engineer of Material Development for an interview covering trends in the industry, the effects of the pandemic, and what they all mean for design and material solutions going forward.
What mega-trends do you look to for inspiration and direction in design?
Social, economic and technological trends all exert an influence on design today. In general, people around the world are leading more busy, stressful lives. This is forcing us to rethink our priorities and possessions. Many are resorting to simplicity and minimalism to reduce anxiety. For a designer, this means placing a stronger focus on utility, functionality and longevity.
In parallel, digital technologies are blurring the boundaries between virtual and physical reality. Touchless technologies are driving this integration further. In fact, touchless is quickly becoming essential in a world that wants to minimize contact, even after the pandemic.
That stress and anxiety is also triggering the need to create the sense of a cocoon, a haven where we can ease our minds and immerse the senses, while having a detox from digital devices. This allows us a return to real-life social interaction and to experiencing a stronger emotional response to aesthetic appreciation.
What material attributes are you looking for to enable new aesthetics and in-car experiences?
We seek material attributes that range from visual attraction to haptic feedback; the sorts of qualities that will help create new in-car experiences. For example, we need breathability for comfort, hygiene and health. Haptic feedback helps to create a nuanced interactive experience. Lightweight materials support energy efficiency. Durability and sustainability reduce overall material consumption and help protect the environment.
Design for sustainability is a growing trend... that's why we used Maezio® recyclable carbon fiber composite material in our concept car. It has a unique surface texture with a marble like appearance that looks very natural and authentic.
How will the pandemic influence material choices for car interiors?
The pandemic is increasing our focus on wellness, comfort and protection. We’ve been talking about implementing auto-purifying materials in cars for ages. This situation has given us a much stronger impetus in that direction. Actually, any material with health benefits will be highly welcome, from odor neutralizing and air purifying, to antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.
The pandemic has also triggered us to rethink our behavior more generally, reconsidering the ways of living that are not sustainable in the long run. The need to embrace a sustainable future through the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle will be stronger than ever.
End-of-life reuse must become one of our top material priorities for the future, in order to protect ourselves and our environment.
How would you describe the interplay between mobility and the circular economy?
Materials that are recovered and regenerated at the end of their useful life are not yet widely used in the automotive sector. End-of-life reuse must become one of our top material priorities for the future, in order to protect ourselves and our environment. Seeing how the life span of cars is growing shorter and shorter, the earlier we start investing in and promoting recyclable and sustainable materials, the more quickly we can address waste and pollution issues and transition into a circular economy.
Low weight makes carbon fiber composites a hit in premium cars. How might they be used more widely?
Aesthetic values will become more and more important, i.e. looking attractive visually and feeling approachable. Traditionally, composites require laborious surface treatment to make them look good. If we could eliminate that need for additional processing, it would save on costs and make it more feasible for these materials to be used in a wider range of applications.
In the meantime, to achieve a real breakthrough into the high-volume automotive market, composite parts must become cost-competitive with traditional materials.
We’re seeking material attributes that range from visual attraction to haptic feedback; the sorts of qualities that will help create new in-car experiences.
- Recyclable: Maezio® thermoplastic composites are recyclable at the end of their useful life.
- Lightweight: Maezio® composites save weight versus traditional alternatives.
- Premium optics: Unique marble-like appearance suits top of the range in-car applications.
- Efficient production: In-mold processing consolidates multiple parts into a single component.
- Partnership approach: The Covestro team will work with you to develop and tailor your application.