Graphics and adhesives supplier 3M Automotive is working with Tier 1 suppliers to create custom packages for vehicles such as the Chrysler PT Cruiser.
In February, 3M formed a specialty vehicle development team to design and develop custom designs for vehicle interiors and exteriors. The supplier's team consists of six people at the company's Livonia, Mich., technical center, and about six staff members from 3M's corporate headquarters in St. Paul, Minn.
The team works on completing custom packages in as little as eight weeks.
'Something that's trendy today could be not so trendy in six months,' said Jasdeep Mann, design supervisor for 3M. She compared her work to the fashion industry, where trends can go from hot to cold quickly.
Automakers and 3M's partnering Tier 1 suppliers, which include Decoma International Inc. of Concord, Ontario, decide which vehicle to customize and what market to target. 3M would not disclose the names of its other Tier 1 partners.
3M offers these suppliers its expertise in adhesives and other technology to create the final package.
Although there is no formal partnership between Decoma and 3M, a 3M representative is at Decoma's facility in Troy, Mich.
Frank Loftus, business director for 3M's automotive innovation center, said custom kits allow automakers to change the look of a vehicle without having to invest in retooling costs.
During a routine meeting between 3M and Decoma last August, representatives from both companies discussed the particulars of the 'woody' PT Cruiser concept. The prototype vehicle, unveiled last fall at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas, uses 3M's wood-grain film on the door panels, creating the look of a classic station wagon. The two companies also unveiled five additional custom vehicle designs at the show, including a NASCAR-themed Rusty Wallace Ford Taurus.
Loftus predicts such vehicles will become popular as automakers seek to create distinct images for their vehicles and to boost sales.