In this Q&A interview François Farion, design strategy and color design manager at Nissan Design America provides his expert opinion on nonwovens in the automotive sector. The transcript is from a video presented in September 2010 at INDA’s RISE (Research, Innovation, Science for Engineered Fabrics) conference in Baltimore, MD.
How do nonwovens influence the colors and materials you use?
The only “noble” application we know of for nonwovens is more felt. Felt is usually made of wool which is not applicable as such in car interiors. It’s much more in the fashion industry or furniture industry that we see good examples of felt. The problem is that nonwovens have been seen as a cheap alternative to other solutions, which were seen as more agreeable like mesh tricot for headliners or a good quality tufted carpet for the car. To us designers the nonwoven was not presented as a very nice alternative. It was something that we had to use and maybe it suffers from that image. It’s not to say we haven’t tried some interesting things. We are going to try even more in the near future because there is so much pressure on the cost so we’ll have to do with nonwovens like it or not.
Do you like nonwoven fabrics and why? Are there alternative materials to nonwovens that you prefer to use and why?
Nonwovens have had a pretty bad reputation in the car industry. It was often described as ‘mouse fur.’ This is not something that we really picked as something that would be “design intent.” Obviously, the material has its advantages. It can easily be tweaked and heathered which gives it that natural felt feel that we are trying to get, to avoid the cheap feeling in some low end constructions in trunk liners. It’s also very soft looking. It is sound absorbing, which is a good function. It’s also very good at basically making a surface look very soft. That’s something we took advantage of in the (Nissan)“Cube.” Because of the car’s price positioning we have a nonwoven headliner. The designers in Japan did that sort of concentric wave in the headliner that creates an animation in the surface that makes it more interesting. We have also tried printing in the Nissan Versa—it was not so convincing. It was trying to emulate and look like a woven—only it doesn’t. It looks too much like you tried to do a fake woven. So that’s not so satisfying from a designer’s point of view. But we are working on some new projects. I can’t tell you too much about it, but we’re working on the texture, we’re working on such alternatives as embossing and we’re looking at shapes and also an association with other materials. Nonwovens have been used mostly in these areas already described that it would be more surprising to use it in different areas and use its natural softness and warm, inviting feel. We also have to be careful with that because some people think it’s scratchy, referring to the wool felt or tweed or flannel.
What advice do you have for the nonwovens industry to guide their research and make sure their priorities are in line with designers’ expectations?The first recommendation is to believe in their product and present it, not as a cheaper alternative to better solutions, but something that has value in itself and can be applied in various locations in the car. Second, work with their R&D and their designers and with us designers to explore new associations, new ways, new fibers and new colors so that even if in the end, the black and gray and beige nonwovens still constitute 95% of their production, the image of nonwovens will be completely changed to designers and there may be some new applications that were unexpected and would be more valuable than the current image. They should keep trying in terms of exploring new ways of texturing, new ways of giving a different aspect to nonwovens by molding it, but still respecting the material. The material has its own value. It has its own softness, and warmth. We have to take advantage of that rather than fight it and make it look like something else.
For a follow-up interview with Mr. Farion, please see the automotive article in the December 2010 issue of Nonwovens Industry.
François Farion is the design strategy and color design manager at Nissan Design America. He has been associated with Nissan for the past five years.