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Guilford Takes Advantage Of Great Opportunity At Detroit Auto Show

Taking advantage of the thousands of automakers that converged on Detroit in mid-January for the North American International Auto Show, Guilford Mills hosted a special presentation at Detroit's Atheneum Hotel to familiarize the industry with its latest fabric technologies.

This was the second such presentation Guilford has done in Detroit during the auto show, with the previous occurring two years ago. Guilford plans to continue these technology presentations, perhaps on a bi-annual basis.

"It's a great opportunity to maximize our global resources into one event," said John Pierce, director of design for Guilford Automotive, in an exclusive interview with ATI during the event.

"Not only are most of our customers from around the world here during this week, but also, we've got Guilford people here from the U.S., Europe, Mexico and South America."

This year's theme, "A Walk in the Garden," featured 45 hand-picked fabrics representing a cross-selection of each of Guilford's automotive fabric technologies.

"Our customers understand very well what we do and how we do it but this is a chance to highlight our products from a global perspective," Pierce said.

Latest Trends

Among the more interesting developments in automotive fabrics is the new excitement in the United States over patterned headliners.

"The U.S. auto designers are making a shift from lightweight plain headliner fabric to heavy weight, patterned fabric," Pierce said.

From a more high-tech standpoint, Pierce says there's a new emphasis on virtual mesh fabrics which he first noticed at the last Tokyo Motor Show. The fabrics have a 3-D effect with open holes - similar to fabric used in sportswear and athletic shoes.

"There's an explosion of this type of sport functional or sport mesh automotive trim," Pierce said. "Guilford's developing the look in warp knits, circular knits, flat wovens and others."

Virtual mesh fabrics have mostly found applications in sport cars, compacts and sport utility vechicles (SUVs). Pierce points to the interior of the new Nissan Xterra as an example. Pierce expects growth in prints to continue with no sign of slowing.

Leather seating with fabric inserts, the mixing of fabrics with different sheens and finishes, and the combining of textures, grains and finishes will constitute the next exploration in automotive interior design, Pierce predicts.

Overseas Options

Pierce says Guilford's European automaker customers are opting for more tonals and small-scale patterns or geometrics - less use of color in their vehicle interiors overall.

"The trends in European auto interiors are starting to sound more like American trends," Pierce said, but he stopped short of saying that U.S. automotive design has actually influenced design trends in Europe.

"It's more a case of the markets converging instead of diverging," he said. He attributes this to better global communications and increased international travel. "Automakers on both sides of the globe are leaning toward a more classic luxury look. The use of flat wovens is growing."

Market Dynamics
Speaking to the overall automotive market, Pierce acknowledges that the dynamics which have defined the business in the past are changing.

"Automakers are sincere about separating brand character with a passion not seen before in the industry. It used to be difficult to tell the difference between a Chevy versus GMC interior, but there's a significant move to separate brands and create unique brand identity.

"The automakers are redefining brand management and the availability of a greater variety of fabric technologies is a big part in helping them achieve their goals."

March 2000