Trends

Car design is a barometer of society

Jörg Friedrich Managing Director Car Men

Jörg Friedrich, co-founder and Managing Director of the design consulting company Car Men, advises car manufacturers on future trends in exterior and interior design. Over the past fifteen years, Friedrich has been serving a wide range of clients, often chief designers from the automotive industry including Ford, Peugeot, Volkswagen, and Toyota. Friedrich has a product design background and, for the last twenty years, has specialized in trend and design analysis.

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Mr. Friedrich, looking back on recent motor shows, almost every car producer presented new models – or at least case studies – of electric cars. How deeply will the electric powertrain be influencing interior design?

Jörg Friedrich

Deeply. Talking about design, the rise of the electric car has an "omitting" and "exchanging" impact.

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What do you mean by ‘omitting’ and ‘exchanging’?

Jörg Friedrich

Many mechanical components needed in fuel-powered cars will simply not be needed in the electric vehicle (EV). So, components will either disappear or be exchanged for other components. Automotive suppliers must be prepared for the fact that only 40 percent of the parts they currently produce will be used in the future.

On the other hand, we will see a component fusion – the center console, for example, will disappear because we will no longer need a gear shift and the center console will slip into the seat in EVs. In consequence, the interior space will become much bigger, expanding by around 25 percent. You'll have more room in the front and back of the car. This equals a "class jump" of up to two levels. Let me give an example: If you had a Polo size before, now you suddenly have the interior of a Golf "+X", a big Golf.


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Another big change for the industry will be self-driving cars. How much will this development change the interior of those cars?

Jörg Friedrich 

The importance of the interior components will shift away from the instrument panel, which was once the focal point, to the side of the car, to the back, and to the ceiling. This will impact the choice of materials. BMW, for example, currently uses cheaper plastics in the door than on the instrument panel. This will change more and more, meaning that the door trim will be upgraded.

This development will be boosted by the rise of the self-driving car. People will spend more conscious time in the car’s interior and they won’t always be looking on the road. They will have more time to look and touch the things around them, and more time to evaluate the material around them. 


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Will interior design play a more important role for the car industry than it does today?

Jörg Friedrich

Interior design will become much more significant. We will see a development in two different directions: The future will bring an upgrade of the interior towards premium, but we will also see more basic interiors. Mainstream design, or if you prefer, middle-class design, will disappear – just as the middle-class as we know it is disappearing in today's society. In Germany, we see a shrinking middle-class and the political parties have a problem with this transformation. In many ways, the car’s interior design is like a "barometer of society".

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Talking about society – every third car produced in Germany goes to China. How much does this influence the way cars are being designed?

Jörg Friedrich

The influence is definitely not to be underestimated. So far, Chinese car-styling taste has been strongly influenced by traditional western design standards. The rise of electric drive will also help to break traditional design rules.

On the one hand, Chinese car buyers are on average much younger than car buyers in many western countries. These young people will bring in their own ideas of modern car design. On the other hand, there is the rise of local, Chinese design talents who are getting more and more self-confident in developing their own design guidelines and favorite materials.

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Which materials will be used in the future?

Jörg Friedrich 

In the vehicle of the future, dashboard screens will become status symbols and will replace today's decorative elements. In some EV concepts we will see less chrome, less metal, but more high-quality plastics. The omnipresence of smartphone displays will inspire the use of glossy-surface plastics.

In addition, we see a very strong countertrend toward sensory materials of natural or nature-identical materials, which promise comfort, such as a wooden surface or a leather surface. This is the countervailing movement, in a sense of the counter-trend to the "IT movement".


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What role will plastics play?

Jörg Friedrich

Plastic will most likely become the most important building material. The reason for this the experience we have in the production of plastic parts. Just think of the safety aspects – using plastic we can predict crash behavior. Producers have decades of experience in the planned destruction of plastic structures. Even natural materials are almost always domesticated by plastic. When you see wood in a car, it’s only very thin because it usually relies on a plastic sub-structure. 

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