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The Future of Vehicle Interiors

If you buy a car in the next few years, you may be faced with one less interior option.  Leather seats may be on the way out, with more sustainable materials moving in to take its place.  

Is that really a bad thing?  Leather has a nice touch and smell, but it is hot in the summer, cold in the winter and has limited color and texture.  It also comes at a higher cost.

It’s time for a change in vehicle interiors, and evidence shows that change is coming soon.

First Evidence:  MINI

About one year ago, I read an interview on MotoringFile.com with MINI designer Oliver Heilmer.  In that interview, he spoke about the use of more sustainable materials in future MINI models.  Heilmer explained; “we don’t need leather any more in the future, because we don’t believe it’s sustainable.”  He also said, “We’re totally convinced that we will have modern and high-value products without leather.”

MINI cooper with yellow cloth seats

MINI is already building vehicles available with more color and texture (like the convertible above), so it seems he was serious when he made that statement a year ago.  There are signs that other automakers will follow suit.

McKinsey Study:  The Future of Interior In Automotive

The comments about MINI’s new interior designs piqued my interest.  As such, I explored the plans of other automakers.  What I found was a September 2021 study conducted by McKinsey & Company exploring the “cabin experience” of future automobile interiors.

Quick Take On The Study 

McKinsey’s research went beyond the elimination of leather seating surfaces.  You can read the full twenty four page study HERE, but here is my summary:

  • Automotive interior design (and the resulting cabin experience) will take priority over things like engine performance, exterior designs and powertrain selection.
  • If autonomous driving takes off, the drivers’ focus will move from the road to the activity in the cabin.  This will allow flexible interior layouts with things like swivel seats and a living room experience.
  • Shared mobility (a transportation system where travelers share a vehicle either simultaneously as a group or over time as personal rental) will require new interior concepts.  Car interiors will need durable materials that can handle the multiple users, but remain appealing and customizable.

The idea of self-driving cars and shared transportation still seems far-fetched to me; however, the concept is causing automotive interior designers to take notice and react.

Future Materials

If your mind is swimming with ideas, welcome to the club!  Whether or not the new cabin experience materializes, I see a shift away from leather. This means new materials such as novel fabrics and artificial leathers are on the rise. 

Luxury manufacturers are starting to replace leather seating areas and other uplevel trim such as wood applications with new materials.  Cloth, carbon fiber and aluminum are just a few of them. They are even experimenting with vegan leathers made from grapes.  

Vegan leather made from grapes?  Is it possible the juice from those grapes could make a new wine?  Talk about a win-win!

plaid seat in 1972 chevrolet truck

Cloth Seats Are Making A Comeback!

Cloth seats in cars is not a new idea, but its comeback can bring some interesting interior color and dimension.  Consider some of the old fabrics from the 1970s (like the Oldsmobile 98 and C10 Pickup shown above) or those used in some production and custom cars of the 2020s as fun examples of what can be next.  

I’ll leave you with the samples below to get your juices flowing.  Are you ready for a new seating experience?  Please let me know in the comments section.

Ford Maverick interior
Porsche with custom interior

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