Of the various vehicles that were displayed at this month’s Detroit Auto Show, undoubtedly the biggest crowds were drawn to the cars with the most striking exteriors – witness the Porsche 918 RSR, for instance. Given that we drive our cars from the inside, however, isn’t the interior what’s most important? That’s what Johnson Controls seems to believe, as its ie:3 demonstrator vehicle showcased a number of the company’s innovations for vehicle interiors. According to Michael Warsaw, Johnson’s VP of Industrial Design and Marketing for North America, “Everything that you’ll see in this vehicle is ready for the next generation of automobiles.”
The “ie” in the car’s name stands for “Inspired Efficiency,” and the conversions made to the unassuming Kia Soul were done almost entirely in the name of maximizing cargo space and ergonomics, and minimizing weight.
Cargo spaceAs with some existing vehicles, the ie:3’s back seats and front passenger seat fold forward completely flat, allowing for cargo to be lain down inside the vehicle all the way from the liftback to the dash. Those same seats also have bottom sections that fold up against their backs completely flat, for loading shorter (but perhaps taller) items in through the side doors and onto the floor.
To demonstrate how its technology could be applied specifically to electric vehicles, Johnson Controls also equipped the ie:3 with its Saft lithium-ion prismatic cells. These flat, low-profile batteries are located along the length of the vehicle, underneath its floor, where they take up a minimum amount of interior space.
ErgonomicsIn what has become almost a given for concept cars (and some production models), the ie:3 has a high-resolution multi-touch virtual instrument cluster, which works in conjunction with a sliding touch-sensitive modular multi-controller. Key information is displayed in a color heads-up display, which appears on a screen that rises from the console – not on the windshield itself.
Mobile phones and other devices can be placed on a wireless charging dock, where there won’t be any cords getting in the way.
Lower weightVarious measures have been taken to make the ie:3 as light as practically possible, but one of the more interesting approaches involves its audio system. Johnson has done away with the need for heavy, space-consuming door panel speakers, and instead adapted the headliners and trim panels to double as speakers – we didn’t get a chance to hear what the sound quality is like.
Kilograms were also shaved by combining long glass fibers with thermoplastics for a high strength-to-mass ratio in main structural elements, along with the use of wheat straw-reinforced polypropylene in the instrument panel, doors and floor console. Compressed natural fibers combined with a polypropylene film were used in some of the nonstructural elements.
Much of the interior was also upholstered in a decorative mesh, instead of heavier leather or vinyl... definitely a weight-saver, although it’s hard to say how well a mesh interior would stand up to the rigors of real-world use.
“Lightweighting” is, needless to say, a huge component of EV design – the lighter one can make a car, the more range and/or oomph it can get from a given battery and motor. Given its battery capacity of 60 amp-hours and total energy rating of 23,700 watt-hours, combined with its lightweight interior construction, Johnson Controls estimates the ie:3’s range at approximately 100 miles (161 km).