DETROIT – A change in what vehicle buyers and users want out of life, as well as trends toward autonomy and the increasing computerization of vehicles, will soon change the in-vehicle user experience.

That’s the consensus of panelists here today at a user experience session at the 2018 WardsAuto Interiors Conference.

“This is an incredibly rapidly changing area of auto interiors,” moderator Pat Murray of Murray Design tells the crowd at the session on UX.

It’s rapidly changing along with the industry overall. Automakers, suppliers, mobility companies and mega tech corporations not traditionally thought of as automotive players, such as Apple and Google, are pouring billions into autonomy.

At the same time, many vehicle buyers, or would-be vehicle buyers, want the same level of technology they are accustomed to outside the vehicle, inside the vehicle.

They also are wondering if they even need to own a car and bear the expenses that come along with it, with some preferring to ride-share, car-share or ride-hail.

“How people define quality of life is changing,” says Jeff Stout, executive director-research, technology and new mobility for Yanfeng Automotive Interiors’ North American unit.

Stout says the research and thought process leading Yanfeng to a yet-to-be-revealed interiors concept shows people in the U.S., Germany and China are saying convenience and comfort, time to enjoy the environment and trust and heritage are more important than owning a lot of stuff, or how valuable the stuff is that they own.

This has factored into the supplier’s determination that a shift away from car ownership is imminent.

“We don’t think (vehicle ownership) dies, but (it) is going to get a lot smaller,” Stout says.

He adds the traditional automotive players likely will have a minor role in shared or hailed fleets of vehicles, while municipalities or the Ubers and Amazons of the world become platform management firms, collecting data on user mobility to turn a profit.

“At the end of the day, the disruption for us is significant,” Stout says. “Our primary business is instrument panels, door panels and floor consoles. I challenge you to find the IP, door panel or floor console in (a concept robo-taxi) picture. Uh oh. If this is the future of transportation, then we’ve got a disruptive change coming our way.”

However, a shift toward shared autonomous vehicles, where users face away from the road and perhaps toward each other, brings about new possibilities for surfaces and functionality in vehicles.

Getting controlled surfaces “into everything I have inside the vehicle, whether it’s fabric-covered, vinyl-covered, real aluminum, wood, glass, plastic” is a key focus of Yanfeng, with “zany, wacky” smart surfaces seen in concept vehicles, using capacitive touch and haptic feedback coming in the next six-to-18 months.

Scott Beutler, head-Interiors Division for Continental North America, shows a photo of Continental’s Vision 2025 cockpit concept, in which driver and passenger still face forward. The Vison predicts a near future where a slew of touch displays will be reconfigurable and all controlled by a central computer, based on the fact consumers are demanding more features inside cars and trucks.

He notes even today the typical infotainment system has “upwards of 10 million lines of code…it’s an astronomical number of lines of code that need to be integrated together, work together, to provide the user experience everyone is expecting, and do it in a way that is predictable.”

The Vision 2025 concept is remarkable for its absence of knobs. Beutler says while it may be controversial to some (Honda notably went to a volume knob in the CR-V after consumer fallout from switching to a volume slider in the Civic), Continental believes it can achieve a satisfying user experience “almost as good as what we have today.

“Ultimately the consumer will be the dictator of what the input mechanisms are, but…we’re continuing to work on hand-gesturing and (natural-language) voice (recognition), so we believe there’s ways of doing it intuitively to allow us to get rid of the knobs and make things more digital.”

In the connectivity and infotainment realms, Harman is seeking a user experience as exciting as a concert and one that is holistic vs. “device-centric,” says Chris Ludwig, vice president-EPIC Experience team.

“How do we create the next-generation user experiences that resonate? It’s not about a widget anymore, it’s about ‘what can that do for me?’” Ludwig tells the audience.

With audio systems in many of today’s top-selling brands of owned vehicles, including BMW, Ford, Lexus, Lincoln and Volvo, Harman is developing ways to enhance the audio experience if a vehicle is shared and the traditional cockpit is gone.

Harman last year at CES in Las Vegas displayed a configurable entertainment vehicle for multiple passengers. Different “sound signatures” from JBL and Harman Kardon were switchable via user profile. JBL had a high-energy concert-like experience via shape-shifting tweeters, software adaptable EQ algorithms and personalized EQ.

Meanwhile, if someone else using the vehicle wanted a “sophisticated sound” for movie-watching or a more intimate concert experience, they’d use the Harman Kardon experience.

“Similar technology, but we’d be able to adapt both the hardware and the software to change that overall interior entertainment experience real-time.”

Harman’s Ignite cloud platform that stores the different user profiles and EQs for download “is an essential part of where we’re going in the future,” Ludwig says. “You’re shared ride becomes something more than to get from point A to point B. It becomes an experience.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com