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Michigan Man Develops Car With 'Universal' Parts

Mon, 02/07/2011 - 4:03am
Jameson Cook, The Associated Press

ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich. (AP) — Colin Kelly Sikkila has an idea he believes helps make vehicles more affordable for car buyers and more profitable for automakers.

A retired metal model maker at the General Motors Tech Center in Warren, Sikkila designed a model car that could be used as a blueprint for building a car with several identical parts on the front and back, such as the hood and trunk lids, doors, fenders and windows.

The 68-year-old longtime St. Clair Shores resident calls it The Symmetry.

"Do you know how many parts are in a door? You could easily eliminate hundreds of parts," Sikkila said. "It would take half as many people to build those parts. I think if GM had done this, they wouldn't have gone bankrupt."

He agrees it would not work for every car, but could make a vehicle such as the electric Chevy Volt and those with barebones designs less expensive. While the Volt has been praised for its engineering and design, some believe its relatively high price of about $40,000 makes it prohibitive to many potential buys.

"You might cut that $40,000 price to $30,000," he said. "I'm saying you would build all the cars that way.

"I could convert that car real easily. Just give me a crew of people and a month and I could do it."

Sikkila began to harbor the idea as a young man after he noticed a Volkswagen Beetle looked almost identical from the front and back. Over the years, he has brought it up to his fellow model makers, friends and GM executives but hasn't been able to convince the right person to turn it into reality. He bought two metal model 1990 Caprice Classics at the local hobby store and melded them into one to demonstrate how it could work.

He's heightened his efforts since he retired three years ago, obtaining a patent on the process two years ago.

David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor dismissed the idea, saying it may have been more usable decades ago when the parts that would be duplicated cost much more.

"That idea has been around for a while," he said, "but with the technology (for parts production) and what's needed in design now, you would have to compromise too much. It doesn't have merit."

Automakers spend less money now on turning raw steel into big parts such as fenders, hoods and doors and more on technology and engineering, Cole said. For instance, years ago it took an eight-hour shift to alter a die case. Now, it takes minutes, he said.

But Sikkila insists his car could work and while it would eliminate jobs it could also save jobs.

"You could reopen the Saturn plant and make that car for half the price," he said of the defunct brand. "You might have half the people working, but at least they'd be working."

He said Third World countries could take advantage of it to produce cheap cars.

In the United States, the car would attract buyers who don't care if a design is simple, he noted. They want value, and The Symmetry could provide it, he said.

Sikkila tried to contact executives such as Bob Lutz at GM, where Sikkila worked for 23 years, and once got a visit from an underling of a top official, but he never heard anything more.

He said big automakers have never pursued the idea because "they make so much money off selling parts" and don't want to cut those profits in half.

He wrote letters to officials at other automakers. Honda "was nice about it" and told him, "thanks, but we pay people to come up with ideas like that," he said.

He recently wrote to Gov. Rick Snyder. He already wrote President Barack Obama and the head of U.S. Department of Transportation, and received back form letters that encouraged him but didn't offer any suggestions.

He plans to write Congress members and others.

He doesn't plan to quit his quest.

"If I got this to the right people to see this thing, I'd build it and make them proud," he said.

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