Changes in car buyers’ expectations are driving automotive design and material selection of the future, according to industry experts who gathered at the Design Chain of the K conference late last month.

Consumer demands for premium finishes and multifunctional design are pushing designers to find new ways to use carbon fibre in BMW interiors, said Hilke Schaer, senior consultant on fibre composites in visual applications for BMW.

But it’s not as simple as picking out the coolest-looking carbon fibre.

“The challenge is linking the two worlds of design and industry and technology while fulfilling functional and economic requirement,” she said.

Embossing, 3-D knitting and weaving and other enhancements offer enticing looks over the classic 3k twill that is usually associated with carbon fibre in cars, while still providing the material’s many advantages, including being light weight, she said.

“If you look further into the future … new production processes and virtual product simulations will make materials cheaper. But the challenges of the future, such as autonomous cars, will create more challenges for interiors and exteriors,” Schaer said.

As consumer expectations evolve, “we have to integrate more and more functions and abilities,” she said.

More creative freedom from plastics

Reinforced carbon fibre and other plastics give designers more creative freedom, opening the possibilities of transmitting data, integrating lights and sensors and even embedding solar cells in the structure of the car, she said.

Autonomous cars will create a completely different set of consumer expectations for their vehicles, said Peter Fuss, senior advisory partner in automotive at Ernst & Young.

“Interiors will have to be completely redesigned,” said Fuss, who predicts personal cars will become like “third living rooms” for drivers, who will seek out greater personalisation, individualisation and comfort.

Anticipating not just what consumers want but what they actually need is key to providing the mobility solutions of the future, said Geet Jan Schellekens, senior manager of industrial design-global technology automotive at Saudi Basic Industries Corp.

Lookout for part 2.