Home Comforts in Your Car

Home Comforts in Your Car

The materials used for the seats and dashboard are important in determining what sort of impression customers get from a car. The Color & Trim designer team is one of the units responsible for making the car’s occupants feel as comfortable here as they would at home. Let’s take a peek into the future with the designers.

2. 1. 2020 Škoda World DESIGN

“When a new car is being designed, once the exterior and interior shapes have been established it is our department’s turn to contribute. We decide which materials, structures and colours will best complement the overall nature of the new car. We communicate with interior designers to ensure consistency between the shapes and materials,” says Kateřina Vránová, a Color & Trim coordinator at ŠKODA Design.

vranova-katerina-circle-newKateřina Vránová
Color & Trim coordinator at ŠKODA Design

Color and Trim, Skoda Auto, designColor & Trim designers decide which materials, structures and colours will best complement the overall nature of the new car.

“It is our job to try to incorporate new materials into the car and devise new procedures on how to handle those materials,” says her co-worker Stefan Webelhorst. “We must also distinguish between the materials that are to be used for each trim level,” he explains. The results of their work are most apparent on the seats, the dashboard, the inner door panels and other parts of the car.

webelhorst-circleStefan Webelhorst
Color & Trim team member at ŠKODA Design

“We are in constant contact with suppliers. We test new technical possibilities to determine whether we can produce what we would like to have for a reasonable price,” explains Kateřina Vránová. Besides being aesthetic, all new materials also need to comply with quality and safety specifications. This means that it can sometimes take months, or even years, for a new development to make its way into the manufacture of a production car.

Modern-day challenges

Color & Trim designers keep an eye on and, up to a point, determine future trends. In the current climate, the main factors influencing their work are the resurging popularity of natural materials, the drive towards deploying modern technology, sustainability and recycling, and the fusion of functionality and sportiness.

Looking to the future, Kateřina Vránová and Stefan Webelhorst see a lot more natural materials than today in car interiors. Wool and linen fabrics will appear in seats, and the use of wood will gain ground.

Designers are also testing ever-new materials, along with more modern technologies and design procedures. “We are trialling, for example, the 3D printing of materials,” says the designer, pointing to fabric with yellow lines printed on to its surface with a 3D printer. He singles out samples of fabrics produced by flat knitting as a further example.

Color & Trim - 3D printing of materials3D printing of materials

Color & Trim - Flat knitting - a method for producing knitted fabrics in which the work is turned periodicallyFlat knitting - a method for producing knitted fabrics in which the work is turned periodically

Stefan Webelhorst believes that light, and the way it is used in materials, is a key topic when it comes to the future of vehicle interiors. We are not just talking about the ambient lighting inside a car – light will also be making its way into the materials used in the interior itself. To give an example of what he means, the designer points out a chair that his co-workers have created with textile containing LED technology. In the future, designers will also be focusing on the actual surface of materials. This can already be handled by a 3D printer. New technologies can even “design” how the perforation of the materials used, for instance, in ventilated seats will be shaped. The long and the short of it, then, is that even holes can have their own shape.

Color and Trim, Skoda Auto, designColor & Trim designers point out a chair created with textile containing LED technology.

“In the future, the car will be more like a living room,” says Stefan Webelhorst as he predicts future developments. He believes that the future lies in electromobility and the gradual ascent of autonomous driving, which means that the car’s occupants will have more choice about how to spend their time during a journey. With this in mind, the designers are taking inspiration from real living rooms and from fairs and expositions that specialise in housing. Obviously, they also cast their net more widely. “We need to spot trends and communicate them to our colleagues in other departments,” says Kateřina Vránová.

According to Stefan Webelhorst, cars of the future will offer a lot more opportunity for customisation. Instead of being limited to the size and power of the engine and several predetermined trim levels, customers will have more leeway to take their pick of designer solutions for the interior.

Textile made from pineapple leaves and zero km waste

Needless to say, the designers are also fully committed to environmental aspects. The current trend is to reuse recycled materials. ŠKODA cars will soon feature seat covers that use materials produced from recycled plastic bottles. Recycled fleece, familiar from warm clothing, is a decent replacement for the foam used inside seats. For the ŠKODA Color & Trim team, an important principle in recycling is “zero km waste”, i.e. the recycling of waste where it is generated, rather than transporting it halfway across the earth for “environmentally sound” treatment.

Piñatex, a textile made from pineapple leaf fibres, and interior colours based on fabrics made from soya or maize already exist. Another environmental alternative with a much greener production process is chrome.

Color and Trim, Skoda Auto, designPiñatex, a textile made from pineapple leaf fibres

Nor have the designers forgotten about customers interested in pursuing a vegan lifestyle. These days, faux leather is virtually indistinguishable from genuine leather, both in look and touch. And touch is very important for the people at Color & Trim. While they work with advanced technology (for example, virtual reality is good at showing what the surface of a particular surface shape will look like if a specific material is used), they still need to take a literal hands-on approach when it comes to examining a material and its properties in detail.