General Motors Corp.'s top car guy is paying attention to issues facing the plastics industry - both the good and the bad.
Bob Lutz, vice chairman of global product development for the Detroit automaker, said he realizes that GM took the wrong approach to auto interiors in the past, cutting costs to the point that customers were stuck looking at ``hard, shiny plastic.''
``What would happen was that the powertrain would go over budget, then the chassis would go over budget, then the metal guys would go over budget,'' Lutz said during a June 7 presentation at Ward's Auto Interiors Show in Detroit.
``The last happy hunting ground to claw back the cost was the interior, but the interiors were the one area where the drivers interact with their car every day, and the last place in the world you would want to emphasize the cheapness of your product.''
Lutz said he realizes there are ways suppliers and the automaker can work together to improve interior offerings without increasing price.
Early collaborative design of a door panel, for instance, can allow the automaker to mold-in a map pocket at no additional cost or create a space for a water bottle.
``If you have the imagination and the foresight upfront, you can do a lot,'' he said.
But the automaker also is having some problems with suppliers looking to cut their own costs after winning a contract.
GM has seen instances when it will sign on to an instrument panel or door panel that offers a low-gloss appearance with rich grain texture. Suppliers promise they can deliver the same part at full production level.
``But when they come to production, the parts all begin to look like they've been lubricated with Armor All or bacon grease,'' Lutz said. ``They're improving their cycle times by using more and more mold-release agents so they can get the parts out quicker.''
Molders need to make sure that when they bid on a program, they can deliver on that product - in the condition GM expects, Lutz said.