It usually takes years to develop an automotive product and get it to market.
But, occasionally, a good idea, a few months, a good supplier relationship and a phone call from the back of a minivan are all it takes.
That's what happened this summer when Chrysler's Mopar brand teamed up with graphics supplier 3M to offer hood decals -- in the form of customizable maps -- for Jeep's three best-selling vehicles.
A consumer looking to personalize a Jeep Grand Cherokee, Wrangler or Cherokee starts online at mopar.com/jeephoods and designs a map that will later be installed by a dealer on the SUV's hood.
The $295 decals are customizable for any location in North America and can show either topography or a street map.
The custom map idea developed from a one-off Jeep that Mopar developed early this year to show at the annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah.
The Jeep had a topographical map of a famous off-road trail at Moab and was a big hit among the thousands of Jeep enthusiasts at the safari, recalled Pietro Gorlier, global head of the Mopar parts and service brand.
Convinced that customers would be interested in the map decals, Gorlier placed a call to his supplier.
"It was a conversation in the back of a minivan," Gorlier said.
Working with 3M, Mopar engineers devised a system to allow customers to create their own individual maps, have them printed and delivered to dealers for installation. "We showed this on a vehicle at Moab, and four months later, we are live with a system."
The custom hood decals are designed to fit exactly the specific hood dimensions of 2007-15 Jeep Wranglers, 2014-15 Jeep Cherokees and 2011-15 Jeep Grand Cherokees.
"It's really trying to move customization to the customer. We want to give every customer the opportunity to do something unique," Gorlier said. "Nobody else will have the graphic that you printed."
Jim Roth, 3M's global operations manager for original wraps, said the idea of custom vinyl maps developed over a weekend. He credited Mopar with the original idea of having customers order map graphics for Jeep, but he said 3M came up with the online tool that lets consumers select locations and points of interest.
"We built off each other's ideas," Roth explained.
Because they are mounted on the Jeeps' hoods, the gray-and-black decals had to be specially printed and designed to stand up to harsh sunlight and weather, Roth explained.
The decals carry a three-year warranty and have an expected life of three to five years, he said.
Roth said Jeep and Mopar preferred the gray-and-black images for their customers, but future projects could be printed in full color.
3M has provided custom vehicle wraps for years, mostly individual wraps for specific businesses. The Jeep map project is the first time the supplier is working with an automaker to offer custom wraps for specific vehicle parts.
Roth said other automakers, including Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Nissan Motor Corp., work with 3M to offer wraps for some of their vehicles, and those automakers have taken notice of what Jeep is doing with its maps.
"We have gotten calls from other automakers because they were impressed by the design," Roth said. "They like the idea of being able to define a shape and have the customer be able to define something unique to put in that shape."