DETROIT - The supplier of ready-to-install roof modules for DaimlerChrysler's Smart has won four contracts with automakers to develop similar modules.
Meritor Automotive Inc. of Troy, Michigan, USA, would not disclose its clients but said the automakers are funding the development work.
'That is fairly 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'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.
The module cuts assembly time and cost and can also save weight, O'Rourke said.
Meritor had a Ford Explorer on display with its roof module at the SAE 2000 World Congress last month in Detroit.
'We did that to show you can do it with a large vehicle,' O'Rourke said. 'We believe one of the great applications for this is sport-utilities, which have a high center of gravity and where the weight savings on the top of the vehicle should be of particular benefit.'
O'Rourke said that with future roof modules, automakers will be able to order them complete with sunroofs, audio speakers, wire harnesses, antennae, sensors and even airbags.