Lear Corp. is hoping that a new molded gel that allows drivers to change interior modules and color schemes whenever they want will prove popular with automakers.
The molded liquid polyurethane, which has been dubbed 'blue gel' by Lear, could be used to make such modules as instrument panels, doors and steering wheels, and is aimed at younger car owners. Lear has a prototype interior called 'Generation Y' to show the new technology to automakers.
The company does not have any buyers yet for the concept interior, said James Masters, president of the technology division. The pieces are part of Lear's 'common architecture strategy' for interiors, which would allow buyers to pick and choose which modules they want in their vehicles.
Consumers could switch interior parts and modules in minutes if they tire of the vehicle's style, Masters said. 'Gone are the days when you could turn out 600,000 units of the same thing and sell them all,' he added.
Lear has not determined what exactly it will do with the gel, said Lisa Tucci, a designer in Lear's color and trim technology department in Southfield, Michigan, USA. The company is molding the material itself during the testing stage. Pigment can be added to the urethane to produce any desired color, Tucci noted, opening a variety of potential uses.
'There is a range of things we're trying this out on,' she said. Its pliability also gives designers a chance to play with textures on interior surfaces. 'We're trying to mix hard plastics with the gel to produce the right comfort level,' Tucci said. 'If it's too hard, people don't like it.'
Lear also is testing whether the material offers any impact protection during a crash, opening other markets. 'We're looking at whether we can use it in instrument panels,' she said. 'It's something that we really think could have a future use.'
l Lear Corp. reported record first-quarter earnings that were lifted by revenue growth in the robust new-vehicle market, acquisitions and cost-cutting.
About 40 percent of Lear's first-quarter sales growth came from outside its core North American market. First-quarter sales in Europe increased 37 percent to $1.2 billion, while sales in other international regions jumped 76 percent to $295 million.
Lear, the largest supplier of vehicle interiors, said net income rose 23 percent to $62.
Lear said its higher first-quarter revenues came from internal growth, acquisitions and strong vehicle production rates from customers. Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth Way said the supplier has new business orders worth more than $3.3 billion, up from $1.9 billion at the same time last year.
UT Automotive, which Lear bought last May for $2.3 billion from United Technologies Corp., contributed an additional $800 million in revenue that wasn't there last year.
Reuters News Service