DETROIT - Meritor Automotive Inc. has four contracts with automakers to develop ready-to-assemble roof modules.
Meritor, of Troy, Mich., would not disclose its clients but said the automakers are funding the developmental work.
'That is relatively unusual these days in this industry,' said Terry O'Rourke, president of Meritor's light-vehicle systems business. 'Normally, the supplier bears that cost. It's really, in our judgment, an expression of their interest in the potential of these modules.'
Meritor already makes a low-volume, ready-to-install roof module for the Smart Micro Compact Car sold in Europe.
Meritor's roof module uses polyurethane foam sandwiched between the roof's outer skin and its interior fabric headliner. The module's exterior roof skin can be made of either plastic or aluminum, O'Rourke said.
The roof module cuts out a major assembly-line task, loading the bulky headliner onto the car body and fixing it in place without damaging the finish. Also, seats and the instrument panel can be loaded more easily before the roof module is installed.
The module cuts assembly time and cost and can also save weight, O'Rourke said.
He anticipates a roof module contract for a 2004 model year vehicle.
Meritor had a Ford Explorer on display with its roof module at the SAE 2000 World Congress this month in Detroit.
'We did that to show that you can do it with a large vehicle,' O'Rourke said. 'We believe one of the great applications for this is SUVs, which have a high center of gravity and where the weight savings on the top of the vehicle should be of a particular benefit.'
Meritor began developing a roof module two years ago, said Larry Yost, Meritor chairman. The ready-to-install roof module is a natural progression of the automotive sunroof, he said.
'At the last station of the assembly line, you literally glue it on,' Yost said. 'You may say, glue? But now stop to think: Your windshield is glued in as well.'
With future roof modules, automakers will be able to order them complete with sunroofs, audio speakers, wire harnesses, antennae, sensors and even airbags, O'Rourke said.