America has always been in love with its cars, and the dream at one time or another of almost every car buyer, has been to own a “rag top” or convertible car. Collins & Aikman Corporation’s subsidiary, Dura Convertible Systems, Inc., is about making those dreams come true.
Collins & Aikman Corporation is a global leader in cockpit modules and automotive floor and acoustic systems and a leading supplier of instrument panels, automotive fabric, plastic-based trim, and convertible top systems. Its high-quality products combine superior design, styling and manufacturing capabilities that are among the most effective in the industry. With its global headquarters campus located in Troy, Mich. and its European headquarters located in Frankfurt, Germany, the company is the oldest North American supplier to Toyota Motor North America and also supplies products and materials to a number of tier-one manufacturers.
Collins & Aikman’s Dura Convertible Systems, Inc. division is all about affordable innovation. Dura Convertible is the only fully integrated convertible top supplier producing all major components of the convertible top.
Collins & Aikman had a somewhat unusual beginning. In 1843, sensing that the rapid growth of the increasingly crowded city would spur the market for privacy products, 21-year-old Gibbons L. Kelty opened G.L. Kelty & Co., a window shade shop on Catherine Street on New York’s Lower East Side. Over the years, the company had a variety of incarnations but eventually grew into Collins & Aikman, which has been innovating high-quality products that combine superior design, styling and manufacturing capabilities and is one of the oldest companies still in existence in North America.
Collins & Aikman’s extensive product lines include automotive fabric,
interior trim components such as door pillars, instrument panels, and cup holders, carpet and floor systems, accessory mats, headliner fabric, and convertible roof systems. In addition, Collins & Aikman produces acoustics components that provide leading edge noise/vibration/harshness (NVH) solutions for its global customers. “Almost everything that a consumer can touch or feel inside a vehicle, with the exception of electronics and glass, can be made by Collins & Aikman,” says John Thomas, vice president of sales and marketing for Dura Convertible Systems, Inc. In addition, the company also produces acoustic products that can’t be seen, such as those under the hood, in the trunk compartment or in the wheel wells.
The Dura Convertible Systems Division traces its roots to a small company that changed ownership through a series of acquisitions. The original root of Dura started growing in Ypsilanti, Mich., as Motor State Products Company, which was founded in 1911. Motor State Products was then acquired by Detroit Harvester Company in 1946. Prior to Detroit Harvester Company’s purchase of Motor State was an additional acquisition of The Dura Company of Toledo, Ohio in 1936. The Dura Company specialized in manufacturing window regulators. With this portfolio of companies, Detroit Harvester Company grew and adopted the name Dura Corporation in 1958.
In 1957, FL Jacobs was acquired and the company got into electric window production. According to consultant Ernest “Ernie” Smutek, that’s also when the first production of the retractable hardtop began. “Dura provided all the actuators and locking mechanisms for that vehicle (’57 Ford Skyliner) – not the top itself, but all of the actuation that made the roof and deck lid function on this “Hideaway Hardtop,” recalls Smutek.
The hydraulic actuator that powers the convertible tops has always been produced by Dura Convertible Systems. “The majority of the power tops in North America have been powered by our Dura Power System which was developed in the 1940s. Between 1955 and 1965, we achieved an amazing 197 percent growth rate and were selling about a half-million units a year. Since 1939, if you add up all the units sold, the total reaches almost 6.5 million. We’ve always had the largest market share in North America,” says Thomas.
Today, Dura Convertible Systems is part of the Collins & Aikman conglomerate that is 100 locations strong with 80-plus manufacturing facilities, 18 technical centers in 15 countries and 23,000 employees. Dura’s Toluca, Mexico plant measures some 300,000 square feet and employs 462 employees. It feeds the company’s main assembly plant in Adrian, Mich. of 150,000 square feet. All manufacturing facilities have quality management systems and are registered QS-9000. Collins & Aikman is implementing its Environmental Management Systems at all of its manufacturing facilities in accordance with ISO 14000.
Rag Top Rides
In 2000, Collins & Aikman had 100 percent market penetration on the top 10 selling cars in North America and takes pride in supplying components to nine out of 10 cars sold. The company also supplies nine out of the top 10 selling North American trucks, sport utilities vehicles and vans.
Its leading sales regions are the Southeast, West Coast and Northeast and the Dura division supplies a variety of convertible tops for the demanding U.S. carmaker industry. There is a high-end class “A” metal retractable hard top – one of the most expensive units available. Additionally, Dura has a hybrid product that looks like a soft top but has a hard shell underneath, and described as a lower cost alternative. Power and manual soft tops are found on Mustangs, Sebring, T Birds and other new launching models. Removable hardtops are also available, which represents an area of growth and diversification. “We’re proud to be one of the North American auto market’s most preferred supplier of convertible top systems. Our Advanced Hydraulic Actuation System (AHA(tm)) offers a convertible top system actuation system that is tunable to an OEM’s needs for quality of motion and speed at a relatively low cost. In addition, with our NVH resources, we can ensure it is quieter than most systems on the market,” says Thomas.
Thomas notes the product line is so diverse because that is the direction its customers are demanding. “No one customer is going in one specific direction. Some like both hard and soft tops; others just hard tops. We’re trying to show them different ways they can achieve their end need,” says Thomas. “The industry is going into a number of different directions. Open roof systems are a growing trend in the U.S. and the world. It is a value added for the car companies. They can mark it up dramatically. Companies are looking for an edge in sales and with the market as competitive as it is now, anything that gives them attractions or can sell another 25,000 or 50,000 units, they’re interested in that product,” says Thomas.
Collins & Aikman has created a Global Product Development Division aimed at new innovations. “We’re continually striving to create innovative products in all of our product lines, from air vents to cupholders, flat woven fabrics to NVH reducing technologies,” says Thomas.
With 17 technical centers around the world, Collins & Aikman is well positioned to meet the challenges that future vehicles present. Dura Convertible recently unveiled its latest concept this past fall: the triple top option. The patented vehicle architecture and assembly process allows OEMs the ability to assemble the vehicle and put the roof on last. This is nothing less than a vehicle assembly breakthrough as it allows an OEM to load interior components without ingress or egress efforts. It also allows for the configuration of any type of roof – a hard top, a removable hard top or a soft top. “It’s a modular, plug and play type of system that’s flexible. We’re confident it will change the way cars are made in the future,” says Thomas.
Sounds like yet another affordable innovation and milestone courtesy of Dura Convertible and Collins & Aikman.