It has been a busy year for Daihatsu. They were fully absorbed into the Toyota family and in June announced that they would be adopting 3D printed parts for their tiny Copen convertible model.
When ordering a car from a dealer, the buyer can select from 15 different “skins” for their car. These are panels with patterns built in and available in 10 colours. It sounds more advanced than it really is. In effect, the skins are printed from templates that the buyer views online and then selects the colours and where the “panel” is to go on the vehicle – the front or back. What the buyer gets is actually a large sticker that covers the original body panel. The buyer is not designing a whole new part that dramatically changes the shape of the vehicle.
Some years ago when Kia launched the Soul, it offered a range of extra panels that could be attached to the shell that actually changed the vehicle so it could be used in several different ways. I don’t know how many people bought them to convert the car for different usage. To me this is a better approach because the owner can then spend a couple of hours converting a vehicle for a range of uses: commuting, vacations, deliveries etc.
In a more basic example, I used to convert my Jeep Wrangler from a 4 seater to a 2 seater “ute” when the weather got warm by removing the doors, rear seats and canvas roof and adding a bikini top and tonneau cover. This changed the style of the vehicle and looked a lot better in the summer months!
The Daihatsu idea is really cosmetic and could be done by the owner today using aftermarket skins or bolt-ons and there are a wide range of companies providing carbon fibre or plastic wings, spoilers and the like.
To deliver this concept to market, Daihatsu teamed with Stratasys who actually 3D print parts for other manufacturers such as Opel and Lamborghini. I think the concept could be expanded so that the buyer chooses from several body components that really change the way that the car looks – in a way that is factory sourced and not looking like an aftermarket piece of plastic.
The leader in 3D printed parts and vehicles is still Local Motors who recently had investment from Airbus. They build complete cars using 3D technology.