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http://subscribers.wardsauto.com/ar/auto_saturn_keys_piano/
Saturn Keys in on Piano Black
By Drew Winter
WardsAuto.com, Mar 7, 2005 12:00 PM

Automotive designers typically have three choices when it comes to premium interior trim materials: wood, metal or carbon fiber. Now General Motors Corp.’s Saturn Div. is adding a new choice to the menu as it tries to redefine itself as a more up-market brand: piano black.
Inspired by the rich ebony luster of a piano keyboard’s black keys, the trim material is strategically placed on the center stack and other key areas of the new Saturn Sky show car. Insiders say the prototype, unveiled in January at the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is close to the production version, which is expected to join the Saturn lineup in 2006 as an ’07 model.

Piano black trim combined with chrome accents gives a sophisticated look to the Saturn Sky.
Insiders say piano black is likely to become a popular styling cue on not only future Saturns, but other makes and models, too, as designers look for new trim materials to spice up future interiors.
“You’ll see more use of creative materials on Saturns and black lacquer is one of them,” says Ed Welburn, GM’s chief of design.
The Sky is based on GM’s new Kappa architecture which it shares with the Pontiac Solstice roadster due out this year as an ’06 model. However, the interiors of the Solstice and Sky will be substantially different, with the Solstice interior being very clean and sporty and the Saturn aiming for a richer look that combines black trim with chrome accents.
“Those two materials (lustrous black lacquer and shiny chrome) really play off each other and come off very high-end looking, like a patent leather belt with a chrome buckle or patent leather shoes with a chrome accent,” says Liz Wetzel, who headed up the interior design of the Sky and now is design director for GM’s international joint venture products.
Welburn says there is a big distinction between piano black and mere black plastic trim, and he is adamant that the deep luster of the concept’s trim material will be carried over to the production version. “The center stack is piano black lacquer; it is not black shiny plastic. And it is black lacquer in production,” he says emphatically.
But Wetzel admits getting that special lacquered look won’t be easy or inexpensive. “There were a lot of people who were nervous about the piano black because if it is not executed well, it could look cheap,” she says.
The key to achieving such a deep, lustrous finish is that the surface of the parts themselves must be perfectly smooth. Slight ripples or other surface imperfections created during the molding process might be acceptable in other situations, but could ruin the look of a piano black part because the finish magnifies flaws.
That will make piano black parts a bit more costly to produce than the imitation metal parts becoming increasingly popular on upscale cars and trucks, Wetzel says.
New concepts – even when it comes to interior trim – often are tough to get implemented in big bureaucratic organizations such as GM. But, thanks to Bob Lutz, vice chairman-product development, the piano black idea sailed from concept to near production without major resistance.
That’s because Lutz spotted the Vauxhall VX Lightning concept car at GM’s Advanced Design Studio in Birmingham, U.K., several years ago when he was entertaining the idea of having Saturn and GM Europe’s Opel brand share some design aesthetics. Shortly thereafter the Vauxhall Lightning became the Saturn roadster and designers adopted everything they could to the new Saturn Sky with Lutz’s blessing, including the Lightning’s use of black lacquer trim and chrome detailing.
“We did have some battles (over using piano black), but we had Bob on our side, so that made it easier,” says Wetzel.
 

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The front panel on my HP computer is also finished in piano black. It is as reflective as a mirror and could also be called black chrome.
 
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