Tomorrow’s Cars Won’t Just Drive Themselves. They’ll Feel Different

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Look inside a modern car, and you’ll see many of the same materials that formed the earliest automobiles. Leather, wood, metal, and cloth convey a sense of luxury, a connection to the beloved way things were. You may see synthetic stuff too, materials born of the jet and space ages. Radical and often questionable ersatz substances like vinyl, Fiberglas™, wood grain veneer, velour, and injected plastics climbed into the car as symbols of technological sophistication and durability.

As the auto industry adapts to a smartphone-enabled world and looks to the potentially radical changes offered by autonomy, sharing, and alternative powertrains, what you touch and feel inside the car has once again drawn the attention of the world’s designers.

In recent years, new materials have come to prominence: carbon fiber, fake carbon fiber, piano black lacquer, fake piano black lacquer, translucent acrylics, and more. Meanwhile, the folks making cars have found new uses for familiar substances. They expose wood unvarnished to show off its natural grain. They puncture and pattern metals like aluminum and magnesium to deliver texture. They brogue leathers, like for a fine wingtip, to expose layers of color and craftsmanship. They lift tones like rose gold and copper from jewelry or high-end home hardware to unify consumer taste.