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

On the dashboard screen, on the passenger side, the high definition video of a skier driving down a scary slope. In the speakers placed in the headrest, screaming skis on the snow while the seat vibrates to the rhythm of the bumps that the athlete swallows. The immersion is total. The most fantastic? The driver of this Porsche Cayenne as a prototype of the French equipment manufacturer Faurecia is in no way disturbed by our sporting performance by proxy. Its sound space is exclusively dedicated to radio and GPS indications. At the rear, the two passengers have turned the seats into a small sofa with a single finger press and can enjoy their action movie just like at home. “We are working on the individualization of the experience, especially by developing what are called sound bubbles,” explains Sylvain Gouiran, host of Faurecia’s cockpit for the team of the future. Innovations that should not arrive in production models before 2025, by spreading conventionally in high-end vehicles before becoming more democratic.

The inner revolution has already begun

But the cabin of our cars has actually already begun a profound change, without us noticing it. Human nature is thus made: every progress becomes in the present an acquired fact, and the past has never existed. Not so long ago, however, the manufacturers’ thoughts about decorating the interior of a new model went down to knowing from what level it was necessary to cover the seats in leather and have rare woods on the dashboard. The double plastic holder in the center armrest serves as the ultimate sophistication for the modern man.

Today, every newer model has at least one touch screen that offers what specialists pompously call digital continuity. In short, which allows you to find your favorite apps. “Smartphones have revolutionized applications in the human-machine interface,” points out Michel Forissier, Valeo’s engineering director. And we are only on the brink of this digital revolution. “From 2016 to 2021, the average number of monitors per car has already doubled, and this trend will continue,” assures Thomas Weber, associate director at BCG. More and more impressive screens. On the Mercedes EQS, an electric sedan marketed since last summer, the screen measures 140 cm and covers the entire dashboard. There are actually several plates, but the visual effect is amazing. Next step: the head-up display, as in fighter jets. “A laser projection will show the main information directly on your windshield, such as your speed, or even the GPS navigation arrows to take a highway exit,” explains Michel Forissier.

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The transformation of our cabins has also been encouraged by the promises of rapid automation of cars. “This has forced equipment manufacturers and manufacturers to shift from a focus almost exclusively on driving (comfort, practicality and visibility of the dashboard) to a more global vision of the vehicle’s interior,” emphasizes Maxence Tilliette, CEO of Accenture. According to the consulting firm, a Frenchman spends an average of three years and ten months in a car during his life; if the driver no longer needs to look out onto the road, the cabin is destined to become a veritable lounge on wheels with seats that can be turned for a chat. Granted, engineers have since encountered the triple wall of financial, technological and regulatory realities. It is now estimated that fully autonomous cars will not spread until 2035. But all this thinking is not wasted.

Electrical models require rethinking of the vehicle’s interior

Electric models, which have seen their sales bounce across the planet, have certainly tackled this race for the cabin of the future. When thermobiles reigned, motorization was one of the key points in the purchase decision. But there is nothing more like an electric motor than another electric motor. “The compartment has therefore become a strong differentiation problem,” emphasizes Michel Forissier. “And even the small models will very quickly integrate advanced technologies to create attractiveness and compensate for a price that remains quite high compared to their thermal equivalent,” points out Etienne Sorlet, seat market director at Faurecia.

The need to conserve batteries also forces engineers to find lighter materials and imagine less energy-intensive solutions. The air conditioner alone, which pumps 20 to 30% of the autonomy, the equipment manufacturers propose to heat the driver’s seat only when he is alone, via a system of heated plate in the seat and radiant panels in the doors. . “We are also trying to reduce screen consumption by working on perceived visibility with lower brightness,” explains Sylvain Gouiran from Faurecia. But “green” cars are not only synonymous with restrictions. In terms of benefits, “the sound discretion of the electric motors facilitates our work of vocal interaction with the vehicle (changing radio, lowering the temperature, etc.),” ​​emphasizes Michel Forissier.

“Upgradable” cars throughout their lives

Above all, the electric motors are almost indestructible. Where diesel engines, known for their ruggedness, reach the end of their lifespan as they approach 250,000 kilometers, we begin to see Teslas that have exceeded one million kilometers. “This makes us think of the cabin in a much more sustainable way and of thinking about how we make it develop throughout the life of the vehicle,” emphasizes Etienne Sorlet. There is, of course, the possibility of “upgrading” the software part externally, popularized by Tesla and gradually taken over by the historic manufacturers, which makes it possible to add new functionalities. Thus, Faurecia thinks of payment options to unlock audio filters that improve sound quality, while Valeo works on ambient games based on images and relaxing light. “But we can also go further by completely replacing the vehicle’s sound system with a more advanced system,” we are assured on the side of the Faurecia. An approach that made the equipment manufacturer completely review the manufacture of its seats. With about a hundred pieces on average, he will split his new seats into about ten easily removable modules. “For around 1,000 euros, for example, you can have a massage and heating module installed in your seat, which the mechanic installs for you in less than an hour”, welcomes Etienne Sorlet. And the replaced modules can in themselves be renovated and replaced in used vehicles, to initiate a good circle that respects the environment.

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Whether the motorization is electric or thermal, the manufacturers naturally continue in parallel to strengthen the safety of the cabin. “We have developed a camera system that is able to predict that the driver will fall asleep: the car will then send you a light line or cause your seat to vibrate to warn you,” explains Michel Forissier. Even more surprisingly, Valeo has also devised a device capable of detecting whether the child sitting in the back has taken his place when you restart, after having acted, for example. “This system, which is also inexpensive, is capable of distinguishing between an adult, a child and an animal,” says Valeo’s engineering director. “That the car can now ‘read’ us is a revolution in itself,” emphasizes Thomas Weber. The real challenge for the cabin of the future will be to find the right balance so that comfort and fun never precede passenger safety.


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