Yanfeng Looks to Save the Wrapped Steering Wheel With Innovative Design

Yanfeng’s ClickRim modular steering wheel consists of individual shells that are clipped onto the steering-wheel rim and connected to each other in an automated process that dramatically cuts manufacturing time.

David Zoia, Senior Director-Content

February 20, 2024

3 Min Read
yanfeng clickrim_1
Yanfeng says ClickRim reduces the time and money it takes to produce wrapped steering wheel.

A shortage of qualified labor has put wrapped steering wheels on the endangered-species list, but China’s Yanfeng believes it may have the answer.

At CES 2024 in Las Vegas in January, the multidimensional interiors supplier showed off a wide range of advanced cockpit technologies, including an innovative design approach to the leather-, faux-leather- or otherwise-wrapped steering wheel the supplier says not only cuts cost but ensures production volumes can be met – an increasingly difficult task.

In making sourcing decisions, “you’re always doing this trade-off of labor in lower-cost countries versus high-cost (countries),” Jeff Stout, executive director-Global Innovation, says during a demo of Yanfeng’s technology. “Those discussions have kind of changed over the years where now it’s (all about) labor availability. We just can’t find the people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a low-cost country or a high-cost country, there’s nobody there. You can’t hire them, no matter what the cost is.”

That’s especially a problem when it comes to wrapped steering wheels, which require expertise and can take an hour per wheel to apply the foam coating to the metal steering wheel and then manually add the covering required.

 “You need someone with very fine motor skills,” Stout says. “And it usually takes about six months to (train) a new operator – and then they quit, and you have to start over.”

Yanfeng’s ClickRim modular steering wheel consists of two, three or four individual shells, depending on the design, that are clipped onto the steering wheel rim and connected to each other. A variety of wraps can be applied to the wheels, from fabric to wood, leather and natural fibers.

In the manufacturing process, the shells are wrapped automatically with spacer fabrics and a covering such as leather. The injection-molded part is fitted with the heating mat, if specified. The automaker’s branding can be integrated directly into the shell during the wrapping process, as well. In addition to the heating element, the design can accommodate sensors to detect when the driver’s hands are on the wheel – a requirement in Europe.

Yanfeng says the process can cut two-thirds of the time needed to produce a wrapped steering wheel.

The flat-bottomed wheel on display at CES featured four segments separated by seams, but Stout says there’s flexibility that would allow OEM styling requirements to be met.

“We’ve got proposals that we’re bringing to customers now that have much more of an angular design,” he says. “(And) some customers don’t want to have a top and bottom, they want to have a front and back cut line. There’s a lot of different (things) you can do.”

Although Yanfeng also is targeting the concept at luxury models, the steering wheel on display looked to be aimed at midrange vehicles, where suppliers are straining to meet volume demands.

“It does really enable some of our customers to have really high-volume programs,” Stout says of ClickRim. “You’re going to make a million vehicles? The amount of labor it would take to wrap a million steering wheels is just…(as a supplier) you’d have a hard time quoting it. This now makes that possible.”

The automated process would allow Yanfeng to locate ClickRim plants close to where the targeted vehicles are being built, he says.

That’s another trend that we’re seeing: more and more regionalization,” Stout says. “Let’s just make a million of those in whatever country and ship them all over the world? There’s less and less of that all the time. We want to make China for China, Europe for Europe, America for North America.

There are no firm commitments from customers yet, but Yanfeng says production could begin in time to supply ’25-model vehicles.

We’re ready to go. We’re quoting it,” Stout says. “We’ve done all of the work from an engineering standpoint – head-impact testing, body-block testing, all of the real hard physical tests. And we’ve passed all of those.”

About the Author(s)

David Zoia

Senior Director-Content, WardsAuto

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