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July 31, 2001

4 Min Read
Igniting desire for branded interiors

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Bright primary colors and a large helping of molded storage containers define the Lego InMotion concept interior, developed by JCI and Lego.

You've doubtless encountered at least one concept car, a gleaming prototype showcased at an automotive expo or furtively photographed while being put through its paces on a test track. But have you ever heard of a concept interior? If not, get ready for the future of vehicle branding, in which a recognizable consumer brand (remember the Eddie Bauer Explorer?) lends its look to the interior. 

Like those who design other consumer product categories, automotive stylists are seeking to make their products stand out by adding whimsical or aesthetically pleasing design touches. Igniting a consumer's emotional reaction to a product is one of the goals. 

Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), the largest independent automotive interior supplier in the world, was one of the first to make the branding leap. It pioneered the Harley Davidson interior for the Ford F150, and is still working with Chevrolet on the Warner Brothers Chevy Venture interior. Its most recent foray into this area, the Lego InMotion concept interior, highlights the leading role plastics will have in creating branded environments. 

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Play tables can be stored conveniently, while a "KidCam" connected to an overhead console in the headliner allows the driver to see into the second and third row of seats without turning around.

What Consumers Want 
To get consumer feedback on its idea, JCI created a prototype vehicle that is currently on the road with Lego's Mars tour. Questions posed to consumers on a survey given during the tour include rating vehicle features that are most interesting. Consumers can choose from four-point safety belts, a Lego Go Pad computer, a DVD player, comfort seating, and a modular floor center console storage system. No make or model information is available for the vehicle itself, because JCI is not sure which automakers it will be working with on the final project, which it estimates is currently three to five years away from production. (Go to www.lego.com/inmotion for cities and dates, as well as a 360° interactive tour.) 

John Carr, JCI's program manager for the Lego InMotion vehicle, spoke with IMM recently about the philosophy behind the concept. "We are trying to meet the travel needs of on-the-go families by creating the ultimate family-friendly interior," he says, "which takes into account the needs of both adults and children. For instance, a few years back, JCI did a study on kids in cars to find out how children interact in vehicles. We found that they almost always sit in the same seat, and will climb over anyone or anything to get there. So we've created consoles durable enough for kids to stand on." 

Although the modular floor consoles in the prototype vehicle are fiberglass mockups, in production, these would be injection molded, Carr explains. These containers can be moved to any seating row for flexibility. Other molded products would include removable trash bins, a paper towel dispenser, and a flip-open storage bin. 

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Armrests in the second and third rows are designed to hold a variety of play tables, some with Lego surfaces and others for eating.

Another innovation, the Lego Go Pad, was designed to provide children with an interface for controlling the DVD system, sending electronic postcards with both audio and video, accessing the Internet, and capturing images from the Lego digital camera. Still in prototype form, this handheld digital device is under joint development at both JCI and Lego. 

Not All Fun and Games 
JCI is also working on issues such as safety and comfort from the adult's perspective by adding new technology. InMotion proposes several systems: a rear-vision video safety system called Hindsight that allows a driver to see what is behind the vehicle when backing up; a PSI system using RF technology to monitor and display tire pressure (see "Diagnostics Through Rearview Mirror," April 2001 IMM, p. 59); and a ComfortRenews driver's seat in which air bladders integrated into the seat cushion simulate walking movement while the passenger is seated. 

Eliminating the discomfort of long car trips is certainly admirable, but even the traditional, "Are we there yet?" question may be on its way to extinction if JCI and Lego designers have their way. One of the plans for the child's Lego Go Pad is to include a simple GPS system that shows the destination on a map along with a vehicle icon that represents its exact location. 

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Buckles for the four-point safety belt proposed in the Lego vehicle would conceivably be produced via overmolding onto a metal substrate.

Whimsical touches such as this Lego character in place of a traditional door lock button aim to reach consumers on an emotional level.

Contact information
Johnson Controls Inc.
Plymouth, MI
John Carr
(734) 254-5762
www.johnsoncontrols.com

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