Johnson Controls Vice President Bill Fluharty: "Craftsmanship shouldn't have to cost more." PHOTO: JOE WILSSENS
Consumers have learned that lesson at department stores such as Kmart and Target that push designer brands.
The industry can create the same styling cachet for its products by putting extra emphasis on aesthetics in the pre-production phase for cars and trucks.
Consider car seats, said Bill Fluharty, vice president of industrial design and new-product strategy for North America for Johnson Controls Inc., during a session last week at the Management Briefing Seminars.
If automakers and suppliers can use standard frames and structural components for the parts of seats that consumers will never see, they can spend more time improv-ing the exterior skin, which consumers see and feel.
"The more we can agree on some common architectures, on some common standards, it frees us up to be innovative and go after unique styling," Fluharty said. "Craftsmanship shouldn't have to cost more. We can put the money where it's going to count for the consumer."
Enhanced design also is possible through early collaboration among 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 doesn't cost anything to change the material.
When suppliers are brought in late, it's expensive to make changes. And there is less opportunity to create a cohesive look.
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."