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One of the hallmarks of a “luxury” interior is wood. Ideally, natural wood. Sometimes it is hard to tell, given the depth of polyester coating placed on top of the wood. Which might make you think that maybe the whole thing began life not in a forest but in a vat. And vehicle manufacturers, recognizing the appeal of wood among the customer base, realizing that it is a perceived mark of sophistication and luxury (even though the car may be equipped with crank windows), often put in plastic trim with an appliqué that resembles wood. Perhaps not wood from planet Earth, but “wood” nonetheless.
One of the world’s leading suppliers of real, bona-fide, high-quality, high-price wood trim for vehicles is Novem Car Interior Design GmbH (Vorbach, Germany). (Its Detroit office is in Canton, MI; www.novem-us.com.) Oliver Aheimer, program manager at Novem, explains that one of the reasons why actual wood trim is so expensive is that producing it is a labor intensive process, ranging from selecting the wood to literally hand-crafting and finishing the pieces.
While Novem is going to continue to offer high-grade wood products for vehicles, its designers and engineers and processing personnel have come up with a new product that’s called “TruWood.” Which is, well, wood. Wood from hardwood trees. Real wood. Specifically, furniture-grade veneers. They’ve developed lean processing technology that allows the production of instrument panel pieces, bezels, door trim, and consoles in a cost-effective manner.
How cost effective? Consider these numbers from Aheimer for a piece of door trim:
High-quality real wood: $15.00
That’s right: a delta of about 50 cents for a real wood piece rather than plastic. (It should be noted that a “TruWood” component has a 0.5-mm veneer on top of a plastic carrier.)
However, there are some limitations to the application of the material: For example, there needs to be minimal cutouts involved. Otherwise, the economies of the material become less advantageous. But it also opens up all manner of possibilities for application where wood is typically not deployed in interiors (e.g., even a headliner).
One of the notable features of “TruWood” is its open-pore finish. While there is a protective lacquer on the surface of the wood (to meet specs for things ranging from light-induced fading to abrasion), it feels like wood to the touch.
According to Aheimer, nine veneers will be offered and these can be colored as desired. What’s more, the level of gloss can also be selected (although one would hope that the level would be less than that used on bona-fide wood that might as well be pure polymer).—GSV