Associated Accessory Products: A Gateway to Automotive 3D Printing


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I distinctly remember attempting to persuade a car company manager about the benefits of 3D-printed components for the passenger compartment. He visibly blanched. This occurred nearly 13 years ago, and since then, car companies have increasingly embraced 3D printing. Volkswagen aims to 3D print 100,000 car parts annually by 2025, while BMW announced in 2018 that it had produced over a million parts. However, the majority of automotive parts are still utilized in bridge manufacturing, custom components, or in applications with very limited use. The challenges of liability, safety, and the costs associated with additive manufacturing (AM) still prevent automotive companies from adopting it on a large scale. Consequently, I always advise that individuals collaborate with the aftermarket and smaller, more agile firms in this area. This approach offers a quicker and simpler route to incorporating parts into vehicles.

Recently, I discovered another potentially promising route for adoption. In 2022, Toyota launched its Associated Accessory Products (AAP) program, incorporating third-party products into Toyota’s car configurators. This initiative provides significant exposure for these products and allows Toyota to upsell consumers on various branded products with minimal effort. The added profit and revenue, along with the excitement generated in the configurators, seem beneficial for Toyota. Meanwhile, the accessory companies involved gain additional revenue and exposure by working with larger firms. I believe this trend will grow even more prevalent and influential as car configurators become increasingly immersive. While I’m not certain if Toyota was the pioneer of this approach, I’ve noticed third-party accessories appearing in the configurators of other companies as well.

Toyota ensures the validation of these parts, taking all necessary measures to guarantee their efficacy, safety, and compliance. Offering these parts through their system also enables customers to finance both their vehicles and the additional components. This strategy might represent a significant opportunity for the AM industry to incorporate its parts into vehicles. A closer examination of the Toyota AAP currently suggests that many of the accessories are designed for dogs. You can finance a bowl for your friendly companion or you even purchase a booster seat for your dog.

Our canine friend above seems to not be loving it per se but it may very well be safer. The PetSafe Happy Ride Folding Dog Ramp is particularly mystifying to me. While it might appear less convenient than simply lifting your dog in and out of the vehicle, this ramp supports up to 150 pounds (approximately 68 kilograms), making it a possibly practical solution for owners of large breeds such as Great Danes and Mastiffs.

It’s uncertain how many folding dog ramps Toyota sells annually, but such sales undoubtedly contribute directly to its bottom line and represent one of the simplest additions to its product lineup. If Toyota were to engineer a dog ramp itself, the retail price would likely exceed $90, as the company might not prioritize the design and manufacturing of such a niche accessory. Furthermore, companies like PetSafe or Kurgo are equipped with specific market information, concerns, and design considerations related to pet products, which Toyota might not have access to or focus on.

Not all accessories offered are exclusively for dogs. Pelican, for instance, offers a cooler as well as cargo compartment organizers. Additionally, there are battery-powered coolers and numerous off-road components available. While there are items like catalytic converter theft protection that perhaps Toyota itself should consider manufacturing, other products, such as awnings or tents for 4Runners, are clearly better suited for production by specialized companies.

Pitching to Toyota and similar companies about participating in Its AAP programs seems like a promising strategy. Approaching the auto giant with a proposal to understand what types of accessories it would be most comfortable with external firms developing—whether it be cargo rails, mats, special cushions, headrests, gaming console holders, custom holders for glasses, new valve heads, lamp covers, or cosmetic items—could open up a collaborative dialogue. By aligning with a few AM firms to ensure the production of high-quality products, this approach not only taps into existing market needs but also fosters innovation.

Requesting feedback on product performance and identifying market gaps are crucial steps toward agility in product development. This allows for a rapid response in creating new products that address unmet needs. Moreover, developing unique, attention-grabbing accessories can enhance the appeal of car sales, potentially driving more customers to opt for these enhanced vehicles.

Partnering with well-known brands and companies to create custom editions of common tools or accessories could further elevate the uniqueness and desirability of these offerings. This approach not only proposes a pathway for engaging constructively with car manufacturers but also positions your firm to influence the market on your own terms, blending innovation with strategic partnerships.

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