Car design has been driven by exterior design. That's all designers wanted to do," says GM's Chris Webb, who is responsible for exterior colors for all GM vehicles. "But the average person isn't a gearhead. They're consumers of a product, and they spend more time in [their car] than looking at it. At last our industry has said, 'Ah, we get your point now.' Fashion designers, furniture designers, all sorts of people are being hired to help reinvigorate car interiors.
"There's a lot of focus now on lightweight materials, ecologically sound materials, recyclable materials. There are two ways you can introduce these into the product. There are people who just want what they drive now, but environmentally friendly. They don't want it to look quirky, like something out of The Jetsons. They just want to have done their bit for the environment. Then there are the people who say, 'If I'm going to make a statement and pay for it, then I want people to know.' Those people loved the Toyota Prius for that reason - because it looked different. You've got people who want it to be totally hidden and those who want it to be bold and in-your-face. That's what we're trying to get our heads around. What's the happy medium? Do we try to accommodate both?
"If there's any area of product design where they're doing any sort of environmentally friendly product, they use one of three colors: green, blue, or white. That's what's in the customer's psyche. So Volt green was the color of the show vehicle, and it will be the feature color in production.
"One thing we've been researching for some time now for the exterior is adding volcanic rock to the paint. It offers nothing to the color, but it has heat-refractive properties. So it could refract heat, keeping the vehicle cooler, requiring less air-conditioning and saving fuel.
"Another interesting pigment is glass flake. It offers a unique look to color - it makes the colors look bright, sparkly. Another thing we're researching right now is a nanotechnology called quantum dots. You can suspend them in any resin system, like the clear coat on a vehicle, and the entire surface area of your car is a solar conductor.