The Looming ‘Design Revolution’ of Car Interiors

Published by Nadeem Muaddi on February 4th, 2015

Auto Upholstery - The Hog Ring - Nissan Townpod Concept

With all the recent talk about how self-driving cars are going to change the way cabins look, it’s easy to forget about other interior design transformations taking place in the industry. After all, automakers are experimenting with more than just autonomous technology and funky seat configurations. There are new materials and fabrics, mobile gadgets and government-mandated safety requirements, to name a few.

In an article titled “Why the car interior is set to change,” auto news website Drive sheds light on the looming “design revolution” coming to car interiors.

The article begins with two of Holden‘s interior specialists sharing their thoughts on how automakers are starting to re-think traditional car interiors. Here’s an interesting excerpt from the piece:

Sitting in your car is about to become a very different experience. After decades of evolution, an interior design revolution is on the way, according to two of Australia’s leading experts, with re-thought layouts and new or re-invented materials coming our way.

Frank Rudolph, chief interior designer for Holden, and Jenny Morgan-Douralis, Holden’s color and trim designer, both believe the inside of cars is set for a major re-think. […]

To that end Morgan-Douralis is not only looking for new materials to use inside but also trying to find ways to reinvent the materials they already use.

As an example she points to the Buick Avenir which features a heavily textured plastic panel on its interior that drew praise from media and other designers for its premium appearance.

“It’s almost like a glass,” Morgan-Douralis explains. “It’s glass-like but it’s a polymer, high-gloss. It’s deep, it’s cut into the back of the surface.”

Although both designers admit the word ‘plastic’ can invoke a negative response (Rudolph says it has been “abused”) the treatment in the Buick concept shows what is possible when designers approach the interior with an open mind.

“As soon as you use the word plastic it has connotations,” Morgan-Douralis says. “But you can look at that and go ‘no, from a purist’s point-of-view [that works]. And working in advance, you might look for ideas and see it in glass and think ‘how do we interpret that?’ And it might be in plastic… You can make it look beautiful.”

The article continues with a rundown of “the 10 ways the car interior is changing” — tackling everything from fabric to controls and comfort. It’s, by far, the most comprehensive breakdown of our changing industry that we’ve read, and sheds light on what we as auto trimmers can expect to see at our shops in the next 10 to 15 years.

To read the full article, see: “Why the car interior is set to change.”

The Haartz Corporation

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for putting the effort into writing these articles on interior innovations. We auto upholsterers see these changes and have to work with them when these interiors reach our doors. We keep up with them because we have to, but when you stop and think about it, it is really interesting to look at the evolution of the car interior.

    The earliest auto seats grew out of the coach-building trade, and they were essentially wood-framed furniture like you see in traditional chairs and sofas. In the 1930s they started to add bits of metal to the frame, and finally the frames became metal tubes and stamped sheet metal. Now seat frames are designed to collapse in specific ways to reduce injury in case of an accident.

    Then the convenience features. I think the first convenience feature for a car seat was being able to slide it back and forth! Now we have multi-position adjustments, heating, cooling, lumbar supports, massage, built-in audio and the list keeps growing.

    So, while it may seem far removed to talk about these innovations — especially for a general auto-trim business like mine — they will eventually wind up on our work bench. So thanks again!


    • Hi Jim,

      You’re exactly right. Though we’re a website primarily focused on auto upholstery, it would be naïve of us to treat our craft as if it exists in a bubble — because it definitely doesn’t.

      Every interior design change that an automaker makes impacts us — whether it’s using a new fabric, forging a new trend or introducing a new technology.

      Your example of car seats is perfect. If all we did was 70s-era bench seats, things would be straight forward. But today, seats have heaters, coolers, massagers, automatic lumbar support, air bags, etc.

      While these technologies have little to do with the actual craft of auto upholstery, we need to know how to work around and with them. Otherwise, we’ll render ourselves obsolete.

      It’s no longer feasible to be yesterday’s trimmer or even today’s trimmer. We need to prepare ourselves to be tomorrow’s trimmer. And that means staying abreast of the latest news, trends and technologies, and determining how they will affect our craft.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!


  2. Retired… Unless Each And Every Upholster Is Abe to Buy The Spray Machines And Or 3d Printers Used In Making These New Interiors You will Be Obolete. Suppose A Law Is Passed As Some Already Are That Once You Purchase A Car You Can Change It Any Way You Want But If The Law Says No The Automobiloe Has To Be Exact To New. Then You Are Obsolete Again. So You Want Training In Sewing In Air Bags. Show The School ThatTeaches It. And The School That Shows How These Spray In Seats Are Made And the Chemicals Used. You Are No Longer An Upholster You Are Chemist And Physicist. You Had Better Start “Saying Long Live The Sewing Machine”.

    • I don’t think the sewing machine is going anywhere soon, as there will always be a market for hand crafted interiors — even if it’s just in luxury cars.

      But you’re right, automakers are experimenting with 3D-printed seat covers and using high-priced sewing machines to execute those intricate stitch patters. Some are even going so far as to prohibit trimmers from repairing upholstery, so as to ensure air bags deploy properly.

      These changes are challenging. But I don’t see it so much as a threat to the craft than an evolution of it. The only ones who will be obsolete are those who refuse to expand their knowledge and skills.

      Point taken on the schools though. That’s one aspect of the craft that’s sorely lacking.

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