Consumers the world over value individualism. Most love to stand out from the crowd, and they want their possessions to stand out as well. It’s why puppies have to sport stylish haircuts and booties, and grown teens prefer pants that sag halfway down their butts. Call me old, but sometimes I just don’t get it. That is, unless you’re talking about customizing cars.
Car owners have been putting their own personal touches on automobiles since the days when Henry painted all Fords black. While customization products were once the mainstay of aftermarket suppliers, automakers have now also gotten in on the act. Installing vinyl car wraps at the point of sale allows them to put eye candy on ordinary, run-of-the-mill cars and trucks and make them appealing to a larger number of buyers.
It may be hard to convince your 16-year-old daughter to drive a pint-sized, gas-sipping Smart car when her friends are cruising around town in sleeker and sportier vehicles…unless she can make it her own by wrapping it in pink and adorning its panels with the charming likenesses of Hello Kitty.
Let’s face it, if we can on any given day change the skins and ringtones on our cell phones and the themes on our webpages, why shouldn’t we be able to change the color and styling of our cars on the fly without having to buy another vehicle or spend years creating a one-off masterpiece?
Manufacturers first introduced us to vinyl overlays as rock chip protection, but these are no longer confined to wheelwells and front-hood edges. You can now buy a transparent wrap for an entire car or truck. It’s invisible and durable, thinner than a layer of paint, and serves to protect the finish from marring and UV. But if you’re the kind of person who dances to the beat of their own drum, you might also want to choose a design to make this wrap not only practical but aesthetically pleasing. Just think: Your next new car can be ordered from the dealer with nearly any skin you can imagine – and you can change it in about a day when you tire of it.
On a Smart car, for example, interchangeable body panels can be purchased from the OEM dealer skinned in the color and design of your
preference. Buyers can create their own mobile masterpieces through Smart’s “Smart Expressions” program (www.smartusa.com/smartexpressions/). Paint options include two-stage and tri-coat waterborne colors in any shade imaginable, and both full and partial wraps are available. If you need a little help in the creativity department, you can choose one of hundreds of studio designs, from confetti swirls to blue camouflage. The cost of full wraps starts around $1,350 and is covered by the manufacturer’s three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty.
Smart was the first automaker to get heavily into the wraps and personalization market and, as a result, has the most diverse offerings available. But Mini is coming on strong behind Smart (www.minimotoringgraphics.com). The site is similar to Smart’s in that it features a design studio where a buyer can pick and choose color and design. Mini has over 100 full and partial wrap designs that are somewhat wilder and bolder than Smart’s: polka dots, trees, flags, camouflage designs, skulls and animal prints including snakeskin, zebra, giraffe and owl. Other options include world maps, hot red lips, stained glass and cityscapes. A black-and-white checkered design called “black hole” offers a psychedelic experience.
Original Wraps Inc. (www.originalwraps.com) is clearly the frontrunner in the new-car customized wraps and graphics market, serving Ford, GM, Chrysler/Jeep, Mini, Volkswagen, Nissan, Kia and Mitsubishi. Some OEMs have a full technology platform, and others use the company for Special Editions. Ford, for example, allowed this past season’s top 12 “American Idol” contestants to work with Ford designers to create their own customized 2011 Ford Fiestas. The graphics were produced by Original Wraps and showcased on the March 17 episode of American Idol.
While Ford offers some wilder designs – mostly geometric shapes – for the Fiesta, graphics are more subdued on the rest of its product line. You can get Pony stripes for the Mustang and hood, side and roof decals of carbon fiber, matte black and a half dozen other colors for some other Ford cars and trucks. Ford also offers customized wraps for commercial vehicles, allowing business owners to add their logos and advertising to new cars and trucks before they leave the showroom. The automaker also has a suite of web-based tools (www.fordcustomgraphics.com) that gives buyers the chance to try on graphics before they purchase them.
Original Wraps uses a six-color digital process to custom print licensed designs onto 3M vinyl. The products are then coated with a scratchproof finish and custom cut for fit on specific applications. The wraps are designed to be replaceable, without leaving a residue, and last up to three years. Automakers like using the company because it allows them to offer unique, personalized products with no infrastructure, inventory or tooling costs. It also handles all manufacturing, warranties and shipping on products it provides through dealers.
Q&A With Original Wraps
With many manufacturers already wrapping vehicles at the point-of-sale and others jumping on the bandwagon, it’s only a matter of time before an onslaught of these vehicles hit body shops. I asked Sean Carlson, director of business development for Original Wraps, nine questions about the nuts and bolts of dealing with full and partial wraps:
Q: Original Wraps is clearly the frontrunner in providing customized wraps and graphics to car manufacturers at the point-of-sale. Which companies do you already provide with products, and who’s coming on board in the near future? How widespread will this trend be in the next year or two?
A: We currently serve Ford, GM, Chrysler/Jeep, Mini, Volkswagen, Nissan, Kia and Mitsubishi. Some OEMs have a full technology platform and others use only for Special Editions.
Q: What happens when a car is involved in an accident? For example, can the wrap on the fender of a particular car be reprinted and installed without concern for the design or colors being off? Will reproductions supplied by the piece be exact?
A: We track vehicle VIN numbers so that we can make replacement parts for vehicle wraps that have been damaged.
Q. Should body shops buy replacement wrap products through the car dealer or directly through Original Wraps?
A: Shops can work with the dealerships of their choice or contact Original Wraps.
Q. What is the turnaround time on replacement pieces?
A: Orders ship within three to five days.
Q. Are designs catalogued by VIN or some other numeric system so you can instantly pull up the exact print that a car is wrapped in?
A: We have a robust CRM tool designed to allow us to provide instant assistance to our customers.
Q. Ford and perhaps other OEMs cover the wrap in the basic 3/36 warranty. Is there OEM coverage on the replacement wrap?
A: The replacement wraps carry the 3/36 warranty from the original purchase date.
Q. Can body shops do their own install on these wraps when replacement is necessary, or must it be done using a wrap specialist on an approved list that you provide?
A: The graphic installer does need to be experienced for most installations, especially a full wrap. We have a national installation platform 3M is launching, and we want installers to become 3M Preferred.
Q. If a full body wrap was a $2,000 option from a dealer, what would a body shop expect to pay for a replacement wrap for one panel?
A: Sometimes vehicle damage will call for a full wrap replacement. When replacing a portion of a wrap, you can use a ratio of the material as a cost guide.
Q: How can full and partial wraps be estimated for insurance purposes? Are Original Wrap OEM products included in the databases of the major estimating platforms?
A: We’re currently not in the databases but we’re always available to give replacement estimates.
Q: Would a replacement piece for a fender come as a square sheet of vinyl or be cut specifically for the make and model of the car on which it will
A: Our fulfillment and shipping go out differently depending on the material being used and what’s being replaced.
For more information about Original Wraps technology and products, call (720) 746-1600 or visit www.Original Wraps.com.
David Williams is a consultant, writer and court expert serving Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. He specializes in determining diminished value to cars and trucks, and in exposing unsafe auto collision repairs and lemon law defects. He developed an interest in signs and graphics work in 2009 and has found that his background as a former body shop owner as helped him develop the skill necessary for this work. He can be reached at [email protected].