- Total volume of 100 million square meters (nearly one billion square feet) of surface materials produced in 2020, including for electric vehicles
- Dr. Dirk Leiß, Head of Surface Solutions: “The future of vehicle interiors will be trendier than ever.”
- Tomorrow’s vehicle interiors to boast a wide array of sustainable materials and bright designs
- Special surface materials needed for the interiors of electrically powered and autonomous vehicles
- Health first: antibacterial and stain-resistant surface materials
Hanover, Germany, August 5, 2021. Continental is shaping the future of automobility. As a provider of visionary ideas for the automotive industry, the company is actively redefining vehicle interiors as trendy, mobile work and living spaces that are much more than just functional. For this purpose, the technology company Continental is supplying all of the world’s innovative and disruptive premium manufacturers with state-of-the-art surface materials. “In 2020 alone, we generated about a tenth of our global sales with interior materials for electrically powered vehicles. We are experiencing tailwind that has helped us growing faster than the market,” explains Dr. Dirk Leiß, responsible for the Surface Solutions business unit at Continental. In 2020, Continental produced a total of about 100 million square meters of surface materials – nearly the equivalent of 14,000 German soccer fields or 17,000 American football fields. “Our outlook for the future also gives us great cause for optimism, with orders already on our books worth a total of about a billion euros over the entire model cycles of the vehicles concerned,” adds Leiß.
Continental sees great business potential in this fast-growing segment over the next several years, and is therefore stepping up its focus on materials for the interiors of electric and autonomous vehicles as well as alternative mobility concepts tailored to the design and material requirements of individual customers. As specialists in surface solutions, Continental maintains an international team of developers and designers, trend scouts and creative minds collaborating daily from 13 different sites around the globe to ensure that drivers and passengers have a safe, comfortable and thoroughly enjoyable on-the-road experience in their vehicles, now and well on into the future. Vehicle interiors are on their way to becoming extended living and working environments, with drivers and passengers benefiting from materials offering maximum comfort, high-grade design, smart functionality and durability.
“Thanks to experience and know-how gathered in various industries over decades – for example in the furniture industry – we are able to selectively leverage synergies and create solutions in perfect alignment with our customers’ needs,” remarks Leiß. Even though it’s still going to take a few years for electrically powered and self-driving vehicles to rule the roads, the wave of transformation sweeping across the automotive industry is growing, and the demand for electromobility continues to ride high. “Today we are already helping customers from around the world to turn their vehicles’ interiors into trendy living and working spaces while at the same time meeting the highest demands in terms of design and functionality,” says Leiß.
Due to the reputation of electrically powered and autonomous vehicles as sustainable and resource-saving, special demands are placed on the surface materials used for their interiors. Just as the automotive industry has been taking huge strides towards sustainability, customer interest in “green” materials is very much on the rise. Vehicle drivers and manufacturers, alike, are increasingly calling for interiors made of environmentally friendly components and materials. For many drivers of electric vehicles, a complete avoidance of materials of animal origin is also at the top of the agenda. In response to these demands, Continental’s surface specialists are increasingly concentrating on sustainable and recycled materials. The trend toward light colors and shades of white is also indicative of the new mindset, which is likewise giving rise to materials with a convincingly wood-like, natural look & feel without the need to sacrifice a single tree in their making.
With its broad portfolio of materials, colors, textures and decors, Continental has each and every of the above requirements covered. The challenges to be faced, on the other hand, are diverse. For example, the fabrics used for light-colored or white car seats need to be resistant to discoloration from clothing worn by drivers and passengers, e.g. blue jeans and other colored fabrics. Surfaces with special light effects are also in high demand. “Our translucent Acella Hylite Concept paves the way for the automotive future: It creates light effects by backlighting surfaces – something in demand not least for electric and autonomous vehicles,” emphasizes Ralf Imbery, who bears responsibility for surface material innovation, transformation and design at Continental.
The future of mobility was a hot topic even well before the pandemic, but now that the popularity of carsharing has plummeted over the past year and a half due to the fear of contagion, new concepts are needed more than ever. By the same token, carsharing has been losing major ground vis-à-vis personally owned and driven vehicles, which are seen as offering a significantly greater margin of safety. “While the sharing trend is currently on hiatus, it will pick up again once the pandemic is over,” remarks Imbery, adding: “The pandemic has led to much greater attention being placed on surface materials offering special hygienic properties,” explains Imbery. For tomorrow’s carsharing concepts, in particular it is imperative that all of the interior surfaces and fabrics used be antimicrobial, rugged, long-lasting, resistant to soiling and easy to clean and disinfectant-resistant.