Mirror, seats, windshield … On the way to the car of the future

On the dashboard screen, next to the passenger, the high-definition video of a skier descending a frightening slope. In the loudspeakers placed on the headrest, the squeak of the skis on the snow, while the seat vibrates to the rhythm of the blows swallowed by the athlete. The dive is total. The most impressive? The driver of this Porsche Cayenne prototyped by the French equipment manufacturer Faurecia is not disturbed in any way by our proxy sports performance. Its sound space is entirely dedicated to radio and GPS directions. In the back, the two passengers have transformed the seats into a small sofa with the touch of a finger and can enjoy their action movie at home. “We are working on individualizing the experience, in particular developing what are called sound bubbles,” explains Sylvain Gouiran, program manager in the future team’s Faurecia booth. Innovations that should not reach production models until 2025, by conventionally extending into high-end vehicles before they become more democratic.

The inner revolution has already begun

But the interior of our cars has already begun a profound change, without us realizing it. This is how human nature is made: every progress becomes in the moment an acquired fact, and the past never existed. Not long ago, however, the manufacturers’ thoughts on equipping the interior of a new model were reduced to knowing from what level of range it was necessary to cover the seats with leather and to have rare wooden species on the dashboard. The double plastic cup holder on the center armrest serves as the best refinement for the modern man.

Today, any recent model has at least one touch screen that offers what specialists pompously call digital continuity. In short, it allows you to find your favorite apps. “Smartphones have revolutionized human-machine interface use,” said Michel Forissier, Valeo’s chief engineering officer. connecting to the internet “. And we are just on the brink of this digital revolution. “From 2016 to 2021, the average number of screens per car has already doubled, and this trend will continue,” says Thomas Weber, associate director of BCG. Increasingly impressive screens. In the Mercedes EQS, an electric sedan marketed since last summer, the screen measures 140 cm and covers the entire dashboard. There are actually several slabs, but the visual effect is stunning. Next step: the front screen, as in fighter jets. “A laser projection will show key information directly to your windshield, such as your speed, or even GPS navigation arrows to take a freeway exit,” explains Michel Forissier.

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The transformation of our cabins has also been favored by the promises of rapid car empowerment. “This has forced manufacturers and equipment manufacturers to move from a focus almost exclusively on driving (comfort, practicality and visibility of the dashboard) to a more global view of the interior of the vehicle,” said Maxence Tilliette. Accenture CEO. According to the consultant, during his lifetime, a Frenchman spends an average of three years and ten months in a car; if the driver no longer has to look at the road, the cabin is destined to become a veritable wheelchair lounge, with seats capable of turning to chat. It is true that since then engineers have come across the triple wall of financial, technological and regulatory realities. It is now estimated that fully autonomous cars will not be extended until 2035. But all this thinking has not been wasted.

Electric models require rethinking the interior of vehicles

Electric models, which have seen their sales jump around the globe, have indeed taken the torch of this race for the cockpit of the future. When thermal cars dominated, motorization was one of the key points in the purchasing decision. But there is nothing more like an electric motor than another electric motor. “The cabin has therefore become a major problem of differentiation,” said Michel Forissier. “And even small models will quickly integrate advanced technologies to provide attractiveness and offset a price that remains quite high compared to its thermal equivalent,” says Etienne Sorlet, director of marketing of seats of Faurecia.

The need to conserve batteries also forces engineers to find lighter materials and imagine solutions that consume less energy. Only with the air conditioning pumping from 20 to 30% of the autonomy, the equipment manufacturers propose to heat only the driver’s seat, when it is alone, by means of a system of heatable sheet in the seat and radiant panels in the doors. “We’re also trying to reduce screen consumption by working on perceived visibility with lower brightness,” explains Sylvain Gouiran of Faurecia. But “green” cars are not just synonymous with limitations. As for the advantages, the sound discretion of the electric motors facilitates our work in the vocal interaction with the vehicle (changing the radio, lowering the temperature, etc.), underlines Michel Forissier.

“Upgradable” cars throughout their lives

Above all, electric motors are almost indestructible. Where diesels, known for their robustness, reach the end of their useful life when they approach 250,000 kilometers, we begin to see Tesla that have exceeded one million kilometers. “This leads us to think about the cabin in a much more sustainable way, and to think about how to make it evolve over the life of the vehicle,” says Etienne Sorlet. Of course, there is the possibility of “updating” the software part remotely, popularized by Tesla and gradually taken over by the historic manufacturers, which allows you to add new features. Faurecia is therefore considering paying for options to unlock audio filters that improve sound quality, while Valeo is working on ambient games based on images and relaxing lights. “But we can also go further by completely replacing the vehicle’s audio system with a more advanced system,” they say from Faurecia. An approach that prompted the equipment manufacturer to completely overhaul the manufacture of its seats. With an average of a hundred pieces, it wants to divide its new seats into a dozen easily removable modules. “For about 1,000 euros you can, for example, have a massage and heating module installed in your seat, which the mechanic will install in less than an hour”, welcomes Etienne Sorlet. And the replaced modules can themselves be reconditioned and replaced in second-hand vehicles, in order to start a virtuous circle that is environmentally friendly.

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Whether the engine is electric or thermal, obviously, manufacturers continue to work in parallel to strengthen the safety of the cabin. “We have developed a system of cameras capable of anticipating the driver falling asleep: then the car will send you a line of light or make your seat vibrate to alert you,” explains Michel Forissier. Even more amazing, Valeo has also devised a device that can detect if when you restart, after making your purchases for example, the child behind it has taken its place. “This system, which is also economical, is able to distinguish between an adult, a child and an animal,” says Valeo’s engineering director. “The fact that the car can now ‘read’ us is a revolution in its own right,” says Thomas Weber. The real challenge for the cabin of the future will be to find the right balance so that comfort and fun never prevail over the safety of passengers.


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