Diversified Solutions for The Entire Car

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November 14, 2022

Diversified Solutions for The Entire Car

Sebastian Schmidt

The Japanese technology company Asahi Kasei is currently introducing its newest concept car AKXY2 at exhibitions and events around the world. The concept showcases materials and solutions that touch the senses, improve safety and ensure the highest functionality while reducing the overall environmental footprint of automobiles.

image of AKXY2 Front View
AKXY2 Front View

The evolution in the automotive industry is ongoing. Next to tightening regulations, end user demands are quickly growing in complexity. To master all these challenges automotive OEMs require solutions along the entire value chain.  Material manufacturers too now need to take an end-user centric system approach in order to provide the best-possible solutions to the changing market demands.

To be ahead of the curve Asahi Kasei, a Japanese technology company, has been researching new trends by doing car user surveys since 2019. In November 2021 the company conducted its third “Automotive Interior Survey” together with Cologne, Germany-based market research institute SKOPOS in the four major automotive markets: the USA, Germany, China and Japan. 1,000 car users of varying income levels in each market responded to questions regarding their car purchasing behaviour, understanding of automotive sustainability and preferences for the automotive interior.

The results regarding brand loyalty confirm the findings of the surveys from 2019 and 2020: Consumers are willing to change brands quite easily. When it comes to purchasing a new car, on average only half of the car users in Germany would choose the same brand as the current car. However, while car users in the USA and Japan saw a similar trend to Germany, there was a stark contrast in China. In the world’s biggest automotive market 72% of car owners will consider a different car brand for their next purchase.

Image of AKXY2 Interior View
Interior View

These figures convey that a significant share of car users is not loyal to a single brand and must be convinced when shopping for the next car.

While fuel/power consumption, drivetrain technology, running costs and driving performance remain as dominating decision factors in the car purchasing process, the interior design has been gaining importance in recent years. Every second car user in the four main markets will take interior design into account for their next car purchase. A key finding of the first survey from 2019 showed that car users worldwide highly value the cleanliness inside their car. Also in 2021 64% of car users in Germany put a great emphasis on that aspect, trumping intuitive operation (38%) and personalization (46%) (Fig. 2). A similar trend was seen in China (78%), Japan (72%) and USA (62%).

Clean, good-looking and sustainable: Demands towards materials are growing in complexity

A key finding of the first survey from 2019 showed that car users worldwide highly value the cleanliness inside their car. Also in 2021 64% of car users in Germany put a great emphasis on the cleanliness of their car, trumping intuitive operation (38%) and personalization (46%) (Fig. 1). A similar trend was seen in China (78%), Japan (72%) and USA (62%).

Another finding shows that “Sustainability” is no longer only defined by the drivetrain technology, but also by the choice of materials. For example, roughly half of the car users in Germany, China and the USA characterize a sustainable car based on “materials made from highly recyclables.” (Fig. 2).

Another finding shows that “Sustainability” is no longer only defined by the drivetrain technology, but also by the choice of materials. For example, roughly half of the car users in Germany, China and the USA characterize a sustainable car based on “materials made from highly recyclables.” (Fig. 2).
Figure 2

With growing electrification and automation of cars, it is expected that the materials inside the automobile will become the main differentiating factor in upcoming years. The survey results underline the growing complexity of customer demands towards materials inside the car, expecting them to be good-looking, clean and long lasting, while at the same time highly functional and sustainable.

AKXY2 – Asahi Kasei’s vision of a sustainable and comfortable mobility

With its highly diversified material and technology portfolio ranging from engineering plastics and foams, functional and sustainable fiber materials, battery materials and market-leading electronic components, Asahi Kasei has been intensifying its activities towards the automotive industry in the last years. After showcasing part of its automotive portfolio in its first concept car AKXY™ in 2017, the company has recently launched its newest concept car AKXY2™ in May 2022.

One of the core concepts of AKXY2 considers the role cars will play in our changing society. The car will become more than just a means of transportation – it will be a place to socialize with friends and family, much like the patio of a home.

The new concept car showcases Asahi Kasei’s cross-divisional expertise throughout the entire value chain, from raw materials and production technologies to the usage of recycled and recyclable materials, while addressing the changing regulations and evolving needs of car users. Virtually everything that can been seen or touched in the vehicle the company either manufactured or co-developed. The car features materials that touch the senses, improve safety and ensure the highest functionality with a reduced environmental impact.

Redefining the exterior

From plastics and elastomers to textiles, Asahi Kasei materials that can contribute to a lower carbon footprint of automobiles are integrated into the vehicle. The windshield of this AKXY2 is made of polycarbonate. Asahi Kasei was the first company to develop a production method using CO2 as a raw material for polycarbonate – a method that has been licensed to companies around the globe since 2002. Today, 15% of the global polycarbonate production is based on Asahi Kasei’s production technology. The company is currently working on a new coating technology that equips polycarbonate with the same abrasion and haze resistance as glass enabling it for applications in automotive wind shields, sunroofs or side windows. Using coated polycarbonate as a substitute for glass leads to a significant weight reduction and enhanced possibilities for product design.

Image of Open View of AKXY2
Open View AKXY2

Asahi Kasei’s solution styrene-butadiene rubber (S-SBR) in the tire treads improves fuel and energy efficiency from their low rolling resistance. At the same time the material’s high wear resistance reduces the microplastics generation of tires. To also make the material itself more sustainable, the company is currently developing rubber grades using renewable attributed butadiene derived from plastic waste and biomass.

Open View AKXY2

Safe and long-lasting interior materials

From the smell of the cabin and the touch of the textiles to the sound-proof atmosphere and futuristic looks: To address the evolving needs of car occupants, one of AKXY2’s major themes revolves around “the senses”. Semi-transparent, backlit fabrics as well as plastic optical fibers allow for customized ambient lighting inside the vehicle.

The interior surfaces are covered by fabrics made by Asahi Kasei Group companies Sage Automotive Interiors and Miko. Sage Automotive Interiors can also provide other sustainable fabrics utilizing raw materials that range from recycled PET, bio-based PET, natural blends, and ocean waste. The seats are covered by Miko’s Dinamica®, a premium microfiber suede partially made of recycled polyester. The vehicle seats are cushioned by Cubit™, a 3D mesh material made of PET and partially bio-based PTT.

With the COVID-19 pandemic safety needs beyond crashes emerged, and elements from Asahi Kasei’s Healthy Car Portfolio are implemented to protect the automotive interior from the spread of pathogens via antimicrobial fabrics. Sage’s impregnation technology NEXXEssentials™ equips interior fabrics with anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and water/stain repellent properties, ensuring safe rides and long-lasting comfort.

In addition, a CO₂ sensor can monitor CO₂ levels in the cabin to maintain optimal air quality while reducing energy usage and even protecting the cabin from children or pets left behind.

Asahi Kasei is currently presenting AKXY2 at exhibitions and events around the world.

Sebastian Schmidt Communications and Marketing Asahi Kasei Europe

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