News & Updates

Monday, September 19, 2016

Going Plush: West Michigan Suppliers Eye Opportunities as Automakers Push Upscale Interiors

Written by John Wiegand
Originally published on — See original full article here

As automakers have invested in high-profile technologies and lightweighting, they’ve also started to pay more attention to the place in their vehicles where drivers spend the most time: the interiors.

While quality leather, wood veneers and contrast stitching have long served as differentiators between vehicle classes, drivers’ preferences and increased technology content in cars have pushed upscale interiors into lower-priced segments. According to auto industry sources, the result is that end users will have more options for interior customization. For West Michigan manufacturers, this also translates into additional opportunities to supply upscale finishes, trim and other interior components to more vehicles.

“The consumer spends most of their time in the vehicle, so they want to see some of those upscale finishes on the interior since they do spend most of their time touching and feeling the car,” said Ryan Lacks, director of sales and marketing at Plastic Plate LLC, a division of Grand Rapids-based Lacks Enterprises Inc.

In Lacks’ experience, high-quality trim components formerly reserved for luxury models have started moving downmarket to lower-end vehicles. For example, Plastic Plate coats trim pieces in the Chrysler 200 with its Spinelle coatings, which the company considers its high-end finish, he said.

Plastic Plate uses its electroplating process to coat a variety of interior components including door panels, consoles and steering wheel bezels.

Elsewhere in the vehicle interior, Holland-based Motus Integrated Technologies LLC, a private equity-backed firm that purchased Johnson Controls Inc.’s automotive visor, headliner and overhead systems business in 2014, has also benefited from automakers putting more emphasis on upscale interiors.

While it’s unlikely the company’s headliner and visor business will be directly affected by the trend toward higher-end interiors, Motus’ armrest and door panel division will benefit, said Chris Hall, the supplier’s vice president of corporate strategy.

“It gives us more places to compete,” Hall said. “Typically, your higher-end vehicles are going to have your stitching and wrapping. I think we’re seeing that move into mid-level vehicles and lower.”

Overall, the style trends in automotive interiors are gravitating toward making it feel more home-like, Hall said.

To do so, automakers are moving away from injection molded and other plastic interior components in favor of more leather wrappings and textured trim pieces. They’re also integrating more black metallic, earth tones and bronze finishes in their interior components, sources said.

Supplier executives in West Michigan hope that automakers’ push to upscale interior materials will provide new market opportunities for their companies.

“Interior will hopefully become a growing part of our business,” Lacks said.

As a whole, Lacks Enterprises, which makes grilles, exterior and interior trim, and decorative wheel coverings, generates approximately $550 million in annual sales and employs 2,850 workers, the majority of whom are located across its 20 facilities in the Grand Rapids area.

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