DETROIT - Lear Corp., the world's largest supplier of automotive interiors, unveiled a system designed to allow car buyers to create personalized interiors at a lower cost to the automaker.
Lear's drive for a strategy of 'mass customization' relies on a standardized common structure that allows car buyers to mix and match such parts as seats, instrument panels, door trim, overhead panels and other modular components. Lear displayed its latest system at the SAE 2000 World Congress.
CEO Ken Way said the key to the new system 'is a common architecture that will save the automakers a lot of money while giving consumers a lot of choice.'
Suppliers such as Lear are in a race to prevent their components and systems from becoming low-profit commodities. A personalized interior would provide a higher value for car buyers, and suppliers would be able to charge automakers accordingly.
Lear competitor Johnson Controls Inc. introduced its prototype incorporating a similar system last September at the Frankfurt auto show. It was designed for a specific buyer but could be reconfigured as the owner's needs changed.
The Lear strategy is a variation of the Transgenerational interior concept it unveiled at last year's SAE show. It was designed to make a vehicle's interior easier on aging baby boomers. Seat belts, for example, were easier to reach and buckle.
Lear's newest system allows automakers to adopt a single interior system and still appeal to both upscale baby boomers and Generation Y, the 80 million consumers born between 1979 and 1994, who value customization and niche products.
The so-called Gen Y will put pressure on automakers to speed up their typical five-year product development cycle, Lear officials say. So Lear chose a standardized common structure to support the use of interchangeable, modular components.
James Masters, president of Lear's Technology Division, said the system could produce myriad interior variations. He did not provide estimates of potential savings.
Masters did not say when such a system would be marketed, but said, 'Ford is aggressively looking at the Y generation.'
Lear's strategy allows young buyers to add to their vehicles' interiors as their incomes increase. They can upgrade electronic devices and storage space even years later. Ken Way declined to say whether Lear would enter the replacement parts business if automakers adopted that strategy.