DETROIT — Automotive supplier Lear Corp. is checking out the potential for molded liquid polyurethane in cars. The Tier 1 company is using the urethane, dubbed "blue gel," on its prototype interior module on display last week at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2000 World Congress in Detroit.
The gel is on instrument panels, doors and steering wheels in the company's "Generation Y" vehicle setup, designed for those drivers age 21 and younger. Lear married it with an orange acrylic in the display.
The company does not have any buyers yet for the concept interior, James C. Masters, president of the technology division, said in a March 6 interview.
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.
Options range from the translucent plastics of Generation Y to subdued textures for baby boomers.
Consumers can switch the pieces in minutes if they tire of the vehicle's style, Masters noted.
"Gone are the days when you could turn out 600,000 of the same thing and sell them all," he said.
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, Mich.
The business placed cubes of the gel throughout its booth and used it in floor mats featured in the Generation Y vehicle.
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 a kind of a 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 potential markets for the gel.
"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."