Looking good doesnt have to cost a fortune.
Consumers have learned that lesson at department stores such as Kmart and Target that push new designer brands. The auto industry can create the same styling cachet for its products by putting extra considerations to aesthetics in the pre-production phase for cars and trucks.
Consider car seats, said Bill Fluharty, vice president industrial design and new product strategy for North America for Johnson Controls Inc., during a Monday session at the Management Briefing Seminars. If automakers and their suppliers can use standard frames and structural components for the parts of seats that the consumer will never see, then they can spend more time improving the exterior skin that consumers can see and feel.
The more we can agree on some common architectures, on some common standards, it frees us up to innovative and go after unique styling, Fluharty said. Craftsmanship shouldnt have to cost more. We can put the money where its going to count for the consumer.
Enhanced design also is possible through early collaboration between suppliers and the automaker, he said. If interiors makers are involved early in developing an overall environment to the vehicle, they can feed into a unified look at a time when the car exists mainly on the drawing board, and it doesnt cost anything to change the material.
The later suppliers are brought in, the higher the costs to make any changes, and the smaller the opportunity to actually create a cohesive look.
Cars are the only products, I think, that exist today as a consumer product where you can create that a complete experience, Fluharty said. Youre getting in a car, in a cabin, and consumers notice when somethings not right or somethings out of place. If you used a carryover component and its a different material than the brand new one or the color doesnt match, or the grains not quite right, theyre going to notice.
Computerized analytical tools will be used more on future product designs to improve development, said David Leone, chief engineer for the Cadillac Sigma prestige vehicle architecture team. With the potential for joint development, engineers and purchasing executives both will have roles to play in new vehicles.
You can use the analogy that engineering is like the drivetrain and chassis, and purchasing is the tires, having direct contact with the suppliers, he said. Engineering will have to approve every source direction, but (purchasing and suppliers) play a key role.
Rhoda Miel is a staff reporter for Plastics News, a sister publication to Automotive News.