DETROIT – Johnson Controls Inc. has a clever new way to simplify assembly of vehicle interiors while ensuring better fit and finish and increasing content – without boosting the price to the OEM customer.

For several years, JCI has been selling interior components manufactured with its proprietary CrafTec technology, which allows dissimilar materials to be joined in a single molding procedure without the need for extra moldings or painting.

At the North American International Auto Show here, JCI unveils PerfectFit, a process within the CrafTec portfolio that takes the technology a step further by creating more flexibility.

Perfect Fit allows additional features and design accents to be integrated within the single molding of a door panel for a luxury car, for instance. Producing that high-feature door panel in the past required several components to be molded with specific tools and then assembled, occasionally with disappointing fit and finish.

With PerfectFit, an entire door panel can be formed in a single molding process, while integrating, for instance, a special insert with authentic stitching for a rich, luxurious feel.

Meanwhile, the same tooling can be used to produce door panels for a lesser vehicle on the same architecture that does not need the stitching or special accents.

“The PerfectFit process provides the looks that automotive designers have always wanted, but previous production methods could not deliver,” says Beda Bolzenius, JCI vice president.

Previously, JCI would have used its Partial Mold-Behind process to create a “ditch” in the door panel to join a hard plastic with a soft vinyl before molding.

“With Perfect Fit, we think we can get a higher crafted look without all the quality-control means necessary to guarantee the quality,” says Richard Arnold, executive director-interior product planning at JCI.

“The supply base is having to put a lot of effort into guaranteeing the quality and the fit and finish,” he says. “And with this type of process, we think we can create that guarantee, create that same level of part with far less effort and far more consistency.”

The new process allows JCI to improve profitability and offer more content at the same price paid as a conventionally manufactured door panel, Arnold says.

JCI does not yet have a contract for Perfect Fit. “We think it could be in production as early as the '10 model year,” he says.

Also at the NAIAS, JCI shows its I3 interior cross/utility vehicle concept, which emphasizes interior packaging, high-definition graphics and user-friendly interfaces, eliminating the need for some 20 mechanical buttons and knobs.

Integrated in the I3’s trunk is an advanced lithium-ion battery that has been specially designed for plug-in hybrid-electric-vehicle applications.

JCI, a leader in automotive batteries, says its Li-ion unit takes up a third less space and weighs half that of nickel-metal hydride batteries generally used for HEVs today.

Bolzenius says JCI has several development orders for its Li-ion battery.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com