Wraps let you personalize autos without paint
By Chris Woodyard
USA Today, July 2010
Reprinted with permission
When you buy a Smart car, you can get it wrapped to go.
Smart USA is announcing today that it will become the latest automaker to offer vinyl stick-on graphic "wraps" -- in patterns such as military camouflage and hound's tooth -- as a way to let customers add a personal, even wild, look to their car.
Ford recently rolled out its own program. BMW's Mini has had one for a while.
Smart Expressions, as the program will be known, "really builds on the innovative spirit of the brand," says Jill Lajdziak, president of Smart USA. "This car was made for something like this."
Besides wraps, Smart also will offer 93 special paint colors, including the ability to match any color.
Wrap appliqués give automakers the chance to liven up the image of vehicles. And because they mainly appeal to younger customers, they can give a brand a hipper feel.
Smart could use it, having seen sales decline after a big splash when the stubby ForTwo entered the U.S. market 2 1/2 years ago.
After wrapped versions of Ford's Fiesta subcompact were featured on the recent season of Fox's American Idol, "Suddenly, getting wrapped became cool overnight," says Tom Stemple, CEO of Original Wraps, the company that handles wraps for Ford, Mini and other automakers.
Ford is extending its wrap program to more vehicles, such as Mustang and the F-150 pickup.
Mini offers the British Union Jack flag or a checkerboard pattern for $398, according to its graphics website. That price does not include installation, which is done through the dealer.
But some customers design their own and can pay $1,000 or more for a fully wrapped car. Custom designs are proving popular.
Owners "can take a picture of their dog and create a custom graphic for the side panel" of the car, says Florian Kuenstner, Mini's U.S. accessories manager. "There are no limits."
The wrap trend takes advantage of the intersection of several developments in auto marketing and technology:
- Personalization. Youthful buyers want to put their own imprints on their cars, a trend made popular by Toyota's Scion division.
- Computer design. Buyers don't have to take a chance knowing how a graphic will look on their cars. They can design it and order it online.
- High-tech graphics. Wraps are computer printed and professionally installed. If they wear out or owners change their minds, they can be peeled off without damaging the car's original finish. Smart says its designs, available in both matte or gloss, are guaranteed for three years against fading.
Smart plans to charge $1,350 for a full body wrap, plus $300 for installation. So far, it has 35 designs, with many more planned, says Kim McGill, vice president of marketing.
Because the Smart car is built of removable panels, the wraps are sent directly to a dealer. There, technicians can wrap the panels in a couple of hours. The price is $200 less than one of the special paint jobs offered through the program.
Ford says it will have 50 wrap designs for each of the vehicles in the program, offering the look of a custom paint job at half the cost. So far, though, Ford's website offers wraps only for Fiesta.
Rather than full car body wraps, Jim Abraham, Ford's new-product development manager, says he thinks partial wraps or appliqués, dubbed "tattoos," will be most popular. "We are able to keep the cost down, and you are not making it too gaudy," he said.
For instance, Fiesta can be given the look of bubbles around the wheels, or flames in multiple colors.
Original Wraps' Stemple says business is up 50% so far this year compared with last year.