When you think of convertible tops, you might think of cars like the Mazda Miata and the Porsche Boxster. However, you may not think about the company that made the soft top material for those cars. The name of the company is Haartz and it is celebrating its 100th anniversary in the soft top materials business.
I recently had a chat with Eric Haartz, the current CEO and third-generation owner of the company, to talk about automotive exterior materials and the evolution of the convertible top. View the details of our conversation.
How have convertible tops and your production developed over the years?
Take a look at a soft convertible top and it’s clear that the structure and overall appearance haven’t changed much in the last 40 years. After all, why fix something that isn’t broken?
“In my 40-year career I have learned a lot about the original materials and how they have evolved over time. If you look at what is used today, in a fundamental sense, it is not far from what was used 100 years ago. Like the cars themselves, they have advanced and evolved. The architecture hasn’t changed much. But if you compare a car from 2022 with a model from 1922, they are a world of difference!” said Haartz.
Over the years, Haartz has developed its convertible top materials to withstand the elements better and longer. Haartz said it’s not uncommon for a convertible to last more than ten years, which was unimaginable 100 years ago.
“They’ve evolved, maybe not visually, but the performance and longevity have,” Haartz said. “We are always looking to improve that further. Or the next frontier is the use of sustainable materials.”
Have many advances been made in the area of acoustics or sound in the cabin?
“Yes, very much true. That is ultimately a function of how a car will be priced. The price points determine how much is invested in the materials. For mid-range and higher-price cars, we have worked on improving the acoustic performance ‘ replied Haartz.
When it comes to the more mainstream cars, like my beloved Honda S2000, Haartz continues to offer its Twillfast and StayFast gear. But that does not mean that the regular materials are less roadworthy than what you find on the Porsche Boxster. According to Eric Haartz, the current TwillFast RPC material can significantly improve the acoustic sound properties of a convertible.
“When testing the Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible and Chevy Corvette, the TwillFast RPC top was quieter than the hardtop,” explains Haartz. “Sometimes it also has to do with the kinematics of the top. The “kinematics” is a trade term for how the top structure behaves when cycled down and up. Depending on the vehicle, those characteristics may differ enough to warrant a performance variation in the physical characteristics of the material.”
How has Haartz remained competitive in the market over time?
“We have developed and expertise, and we love our expertise. If you look at the long history of convertibles, there have been times when convertibles had a good share of the market, other times less. In the 1970s, unibody cars entered the manufacturing field and air conditioning was readily available for cars,” Haartz said.
In the 1970s, mass production was at the forefront, which meant that OEMs disapproved of anything limited in production, such as convertibles. However, those who wanted convertibles could spend the money and make it happen.
“That was a tough time for convertible enthusiasts. But when Lee Iacocca brought back convertibles in the late 1970s and 1980s, Chrysler quickly followed suit and GM joined in,” Haartz said.
“It’s been up and down over time, and we’re happy to produce what we can produce, and I think the inherent expertise put in place to produce these types of materials allows us to be competitive. “The biggest challenge we see is trying to bring cheaper Southeast Asian materials, as they usually do. But they don’t have a multi-generational passion for this stuff like we do.”
What are the plans for the future of the Haartz company?
“We want to embrace sustainable production and sustainable materials,” replied Haartz. “We’re just starting to surface with the use of sustainable materials.”
Haartz has also expanded its operations worldwide. There is a joint venture plant in China, a facility in Germany that produces soft top fabrics, offices in Japan and Mexico, and the head office is in Acton, MA.
As for those sustainable materials, Haartz told me the company has developed a thermoplastic olefin as an “environmentally friendly cousin to PVC.” Essentially, they avoid anything that is carcinogenic and allow the materials to be recycled. On the plus side, the new composite material is lighter, which can improve a vehicle’s fuel economy.
“We’re looking to leverage and build on all the expertise we have, maybe even in the non-automotive applications,” Haartz continued. “There are also improvements in the area of sustainability and performance, so we are constantly working on that. History without a future is rather bleak, so we want to make sure we pay attention to a good future. We are going through a challenging market, we are going through and doing well.”
While you may not often think of the soft material used on a daily basis in cars like the Mazda Miata and the Porsche Boxter, it’s nice to know that there are companies like Haartz that make cars like those that last for years. And as for the Haartz company itself, we wish them at least another 100 years in the business.
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