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EYES ON DESIGN
ACCESSORIESS MUST FIT THE DESIGN THAT MUST FIT THE ACCESSORIES.
A recent J.D. Power study (The 2016 U.S. Auto Avoider Study) revealed that exterior styling is the top reason shoppers buy a particular model vehicle (59%). The study also revealed that exterior styling is the top reason many people avoid a particular model. It is not an overstatement to say that exterior design is a top priority in today’s automotive industry.
A vehicle is the second largest purchase that a customer will make in their lifetime, so giving potential buyers something that is visually appealing is a top priority. It’s easy to see why designers spend months developing character lines, corporate faces and wheel finishes.
People want their car to reflect their own design style. This desire helped drive the automotive accessory market to be worth $33 billion in 2015, according to Foresight Research, and it’s expected to continue growing.
Finding the right balance is important. Mopar® must design parts that not only look good on their own and appeal to the individual customer, but also respect the lines penned by the vehicle’s original designer.
THERE FROM THE START
The Head of Mopar Design – FCA US LLC, Joe Dehner, holds an office at the company’s design studio, sharing the same space as the FCA US portfolio of brands. To really drive the point that Mopar has as much input as the brands, Dehner splits time between being Head of Mopar Design and Head of Ram Design. This is especially important considering the truck brand is second only to the Jeep® brand in sales of Mopar accessories.
Dehner says he holds a standing meeting once a month where Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar), FCA – Global, meets with the design and accessory teams from all the brands, giving him much needed insight into the early phases of the design process, allowing him to prepare for what’s to come.
Pietro not only has to worry about the design of the parts, but also how to deal with the part explosion that comes along with a new product launch,” said Dehner. “With each new product, he has to stock warehouses around the world with all of the accessories that go with it. With ample heads up, that allows him to get out ahead of it.”
It is this early prep that allows the design team at Mopar® to get early looks at what will come down the pike, and design to the new product, which is especially important for products like wheels and graphics packages. Another unexpected advantage of these meetings is the impromptu brainstorms that inevitably break out.
“Sometimes we’ll all get to talking in that meeting about design, looking at clay models and talk at a high level about design. We invent a lot of stuff right in that meeting, even stuff that may not have been in the business plan,” said Dehner. “It’s amazing some of the stuff we can come up with. It’s great to have the fl exibility that Mopar is always open to new ideas.”
DESIGNED TO BE OPTIONAL
The trouble with designing a line of accessories products is that they are purely add-ons from the end user’s stand-point, unlike an options package, which gets built at the factory and thus has the advantage of being fully integrated from the start.
With 72 percent of pickup owners installing or planning to install accessories on their new vehicle, according to Foresight, there’s still 28 percent of the pickup truck market — over a half a million truck owners, according to 2015 sales numbers — that have not installed any accessories to their trucks. Which means Dehner and his team can’t ask the brand teams for too many design concessions in the name of accessories. The overall design must hold up whether a Mopar part is installed or not. To this end, the team works hard to make sure that as many factory mounting points are used as possible.
The use of positive attachments is all about authenticity. When the top two customer brands for Mopar are Jeep® and Ram, customers expect the additional parts to hold up to the rough use off-roaders and workhorse pickups are put through. In the case of these vehicles, finding a way to bolt on a part becomes crucial when compared to using snap fi t or double-sided tape.
A common solution to this problem is removing the factory part and using the same mounting points to put on a larger, more capable, and sometimes more durable Mopar part. This is where the advantage of being part of the original design process becomes readily apparent, and obviously important.
KEEPING PERFORMANCE IN MIND
There’s another balance Mopar has to find as well. The brand isn’t only known for its aesthetic-heightening parts, but Mopar ingenuity can also add quite a bit to a vehicle’s performance, capability and function. And while this is mainly an engineering responsibility, Dehner’s team still gets involved.
Cold air kits are the perfect example of this balance. The kit must function and add a benefit to the performance, but there is some aspect to the parts that the design team has a responsibility for as well. The team not only figures out where the routing of the intake pipe should go to perform well, but also look good doing so.
PLAYING THE FUTURES WITH PAINT
One of the biggest challenges for a design-focused company like Mopar is being able to predict upcoming trends. And while this may affect things like wheels, the overall design of wheels varies only a little bit over time.
One trend that is constantly changing, however, is paint colors and finishes. Everything from Fashion Week to the economy affects color trends in the world of automotive paint. But the way that the paint is made requires some extreme foresight by Dehner’s team.
Paint takes a minimum of one year to make — from concept to production, according to Dehner. Not only does the formula have to be created, but it must also be tested for durability and sun fading before being mixed and distributed to factories around the world. So when the team thinks about designing a color, it can’t be to serve the immediate trend, but the trend they see a year or more down the road.
Dehner says that the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show is the premier place to witness what the upcoming trends in paint colors and finishes may be. “You don’t see what’s popular today there,” he said. “You see the trends for the future, in terms of colors.”
This foresight was critical to bringing a distinctly FCA US design feature to life: The Brass Monkey wheels featured on the SRT® Hellcat.
“That’s something I am proud of in terms of the team here,” said Dehner. “Not many other manufacturers have a color like that, and if you looked around at SEMA this year, you saw that now the trend is going away from black wheels toward bronzes and earth tones.”