Home » We Found A Patent Application That Suggests GM Wants To Burn Designs Into New Cars’ Paint Using The Power Of Lasers

We Found A Patent Application That Suggests GM Wants To Burn Designs Into New Cars’ Paint Using The Power Of Lasers

Gm Laser Paint Topshot
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Deep within the automotive world lies a special niche of jokes about high-margin dealership add-ons like TruCoat, and one of my favorites, dentless paint removal. That last absurdity represents the sleazy stereotype of dealers trying to whack customers with everything that can make extra money, but surely it would never happen, right? Well, a patent application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office suggests that GM is trying to make dentless paint removal real using lasers for the purposes of customization.

The patent application describes this manner of modding as “A method of customizing a vehicle body includes inputting a selected customized embellishment to a laser controller, directing a beam of the laser onto the surface of the vehicle body, and guiding the beam of the laser with the laser controller to impart the selected customized embellishment to the surface.” Translation? GM wants to laser-etch cars by selectively burning off a layer of paint.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Gm Laser Paint Apperatus

Anyone who’s lived in a place where rust exists will see a problem with this plan immediately. Etching all the way down to the bare metal is an open invitation for the tinworm to come party, and going down to the primer is still an issue because primer absorbs moisture if it isn’t sealed.

Of course, GM has a solution, but it means that each new car run through this system would require at least two vastly different color coats, each with full coverage. Needless to say, this is an expensive proposition. It would theoretically require more time in the paint shop, more paint on the car, and may have greater effects than just finish should it be implemented. Put too much paint on a panel, and shut lines might not fit right, for example.

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Gm Laser Paint Cross Section

Laser technology is also expensive, so there’s a possibility that this tech just won’t be cost-competitive. I’d imagine a sizable investment would be required by dealerships to bring laser-engraving into the mainstream, and that’s before we consider whether or not anyone would even want to personalize a car in this manner.

Part of the reason why so many people like wraps is because they aren’t permanent. So long as the paint underneath is in good shape prior to wrapping, proper wrapping procedures are followed, and the wrap isn’t left on beyond the vinyl’s lifespan, a wrap is reversible. Buy whatever color’s on the lot so you don’t have to wait, wrap over it with something fun, then return to the original resale-friendly color when you’re ready for a change or just want to sell. While it’s hard to get vinyl to lay and shine up like paint, companies like Inozetek are now producing high-gloss, very smooth finishes that give off a great impression.

Inozetek Wrap

In contrast, laser-engraving your car is permanent, or at least it’s permanent until some serious paintwork can be done. That’s a big ding on resale value compared to popular easily-removable cosmetic modifications. So why does GM think this laser business could take off? According to the patent application, “An ability to personalize the vehicle at a point of purchase would reduce costs, allow the embellishments to be better integrated into the vehicle finish, and eliminate loss of access to the vehicle as the embellishments will be completed at the time of delivery.”

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It seems like GM wants to offer a competitor to wrapping without considering why vinyl-based vehicle wraps are popular in the first place. Laser-engraved paint is certainly a neat idea, but I just don’t see it having enough spread to justify the cost since it’s not an easily-reversible process. Back to the drawing board on this one, I think.

[Editor’s Note: I don’t know if I’d be as dismissive as Thomas is here; the idea that your dealer may have this machine and when you order your new car you can pick from pre-made designs or, even better, upload a set of your own (this should be possible, and if the dimensions and parameters and file formats are known, there could be a whole sub-industry where people can buy files for a given design) and then they have a very personalized car ready for them when they go get it. Technically, existing cars could take advantage of this too, though without a contrasting color layer below the outermost paint layer, they’d need to go down to bare metal and, presumably, clearcoat afterwards. 

Still, I think there could be something fun here, executed properly. Of course, it’s GM, so that’s, you know, hardly guaranteed. – JT]

(Photo credits, GM, USPTO, Inozetek)

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Ron888
Ron888
9 months ago

I can actually see this working well, but only for a very specific appearance.

But you’re right about resale value! I guess for those eating big money from depreciation on their german machines, this is a modest extra cost?

FG Ryder
FG Ryder
9 months ago

OEMs patent crazy ideas all the time just because. Doesn’t mean they intend to do it in the near future, or at all. Reading patents pending to announce a company strategy is borderline sensationalist.

Sgtyukon
Sgtyukon
9 months ago

If auto makers want to allow you to personalize your ride, how about offering a few more colors?

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
9 months ago

I’m with Hundal. This is bull shit.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
9 months ago

More OEM stupid shit designed to separate you from your money…Hell no. I prefer to let Mother Nature to ruin my paint naturally.

Sklooner
Sklooner
9 months ago

Maybe they will just make the clear coat matte or maybe the paint will react with the laser

Chronometric
Chronometric
9 months ago

Kudos for the clever word-play in the title.

Peter Murphy
Peter Murphy
9 months ago

I just assumed this would be a way for dealers to mess up your vehicle with even more advertising for their dealership that you couldn’t remove short of getting a new paint job.

Bendanzig
Bendanzig
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Murphy

Yeah, I don’t think they are going to wait for the customer to come in and ask for a specific design. Every vehicle on the lot is going to have a $2000 surcharge for “laser pinstriping”. You don’t like it, try your luck at the next dealership.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
9 months ago
Reply to  Bendanzig

Yep, they’ll etch some tacky design on every car coming off the trailer, add an inflated charge to every sticker, and whine that they can’t take it off because it’s already done

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
9 months ago

Would this also work with carbon fiber body panels? Imagine etching pinstripes in on a light paint color over carbon fiber.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago

Does this mean the Trans Am with full screaming chicken is coming back?

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
9 months ago

Tattoos for cars?

Drew
Drew
9 months ago

I suspect that GM patented this without the intention to use it in the near future. They figure that the tech is going to get affordable enough to justify this and they want to be the first to patent a way to use it.
Or license it to other companies, probably. It’s a low investment to patent something you figure you can license out.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
9 months ago

I see ghost flames in someone future 🙂

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
9 months ago

I personally don’t want to see a future where painted van murals are replaced with laser etching.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
9 months ago

Imagine racing stripes with this, or a huge bald eagle with stars and stripes and huge talons.

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