AUTOSHOW-Hemp, coconut and bamboo for your car interior

DETROIT Tue Jan 15, 2008 12:48pm EST

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DETROIT Jan 15 (Reuters) - Natural fibres derived from hemp, coconut, bamboo or kenaf could be used in car interiors to get away from the "plastic feeling" of many cars on the road.

"What is going to be key for cars is the way the interior feels, smells, sounds and looks like," said Philippe Aumont, the product planning vice president at French car parts group Faurecia (EPED.PA).

He said statistics in Europe showed the majority of people buy their cars without a test drive.

"So the time they spend in the showroom is very important - the click of a button, the touch of the dashboard, the feel of the steering wheel, the sound of closing the glove compartment," he said on the sidelines of the North American International Auto Show on Tuesday.

"It is all about perceived quality."

Faurecia, majority controlled by Europe's second-biggest volume carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA), has comfort enhancement of interiors as one of its business priorities, alongside safety and environmental issues.

Aumont said there was a trend towards 'premiumisation' of car interiors as more and more carmakers seek to chase the premium clients because that is a fast growing market segment.

In Europe, for instance, the overall car market was flat to lower while there was a 20 percent year on year growth in the premium segment which starts with such cars as the Audi A4 from Volkswagen (VOWG.DE), the BMW (BMWG.DE) 3 series or the new Renault (RENA.PA) Laguna and Citroen C5.

At the other end of the market are the no-frills models such as the coming Tata (TAMO.BO) Nano or the Logan of Renault's Dacia.

In between, will be the run-of-the mill volume models that will use hand-me-downs of their more expensive stablemates.

Aumont said the advantage of the natural fibres was not only their feel but also they were 'greener' -- "We are resorting to materials that have already used CO2 in their life, it does not add to CO2 emissions," he said.

"Land needs primarily to be used to grow crops to feed humans and animals. But what is not used from the crop -- like the core of a corn cob -- can be used for its fibre," he said.

Kenaf, for instance, can be used in dashboards, and bamboo fibres can strengthen seats. Coconut is used in the 'shell' of the car interior and hemp in the lining of doors.

Aumont said U.S. carmakers were looking to European suppliers like Faurecia to deliver the premium interiors of their German rivals.

Faurecia, which is on the Audi A4, Mini Clubman or BMW X6, also worked with Cadillac on the CTS and does the instrument panel and seats of the 2008 North American Car of the Year Award winner - the Chevrolet Malibu.

Faurecia first half 2007 sales in North America were up by 40 percent compared with the previous year.

In security, the trend is towards gadgets that can sense when an accident might be happening and act to limit damage to the car occupants -- with products such as active head restraints that limit the distance between the headrest and the head at time of impact.

Another trend will be how to handle all those electronic gadgets from PDAs and Ipods to mobile phones.

"You get in your car with all these things in your pockets and you will have to store them somewhere and there should be some kind of docking system -- because it will still take a long time before we have wireless power supply," Aumont said. For more on the Detroit Auto Show in Reuters blogs, click here

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