TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.—One day soon, the inside of your car might look more like a movie theater or your living room.
Vehicles of the future will become a person's third most important living space after their house and workspace, Maria Helena Antolin Raybaud, vice chairman of interiors supplier Grupo Antolin, said at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars, held recently in Traverse City.
That's because autonomous technology will free drivers to conduct a conference call on their way to the office or watch a movie on a family road trip, she said. That means changes for the materials, design and functionality of the interior components that Grupo Antolin builds.
The Spanish supplier was founded in the 1950s and has 151 production plants and 28,000 workers in 25 countries making vehicle parts from headliners and door panels to instrument panels and seating.
"We're sure the car is going to change more than in its entire history," Antolin said during her appearance. "It will have a significant impact on the interior."
She said the company envisions an interior that includes smart lighting, voice/gesture recognition and augmented reality that turns it into a leisure space. The company is developing new surfaces with natural materials such as wood, cork and stone that are more damage-resistant and easier to clean—especially for taxis and other shared vehicles.
Ambient lighting could one day communicate the status of the vehicle or send messages to drivers, she said.
At the same time, Grupo Antolin is attempting to reduce weight across its product line, even from small parts such as sun visors.
All those changes mean the company will have to change its manufacturing processes. Antolin said the supplier will need to manufacture parts quicker and be more flexible to fill orders that will become increasingly more customized.
The company has instituted a number of pilot projects to develop what it calls "manufacturing of tomorrow" and is working closer with auto makers to determine exactly what car buyers want.
Those pilot projects include collaborative robotics, production planning and predictive maintenance.
"We want our processes and systems to be more intelligent," Antolin said. "We need to work with our manufacturing partners from the beginning."
Grupo Antolin ranks No. 42 on Automotive News' list of the top 100 global suppliers with worldwide sales to auto makers of $5.69 billion in 2017. Automotive News is a sister publication to Rubber & Plastics News.