Reach for the Floor

May 1, 2012

Floor mats and cargo liners: keeping things clean and safe under foot.

Floor mats and cargo liners, like paint protection films and window tints, might not be the first thing people notice about a vehicle, but like other “behind the scenes” elements, they make a big difference as to how well a vehicle holds up to the wear and tear of constant use.

Obviously, these products go a long way toward protecting the carpeting in a vehicle, but we had to wonder what else there is to know about this underfoot, if not under-the-radar, subject.

Fit, function

“What most people don’t recognize, is the importance of keeping mats securely in place,” says Gary Lavender, from Los Angeles-based Lloyd Mats. “Safety is the main concern for securing floor mats with fasteners, but durability is significantly affected if mats do not have anchoring devices. Mats that stay in place last much longer than mats that have a tendency to move and thus develop wrinkles.”

Lavender also points out that the wide ranges in the quality and type of materials used, as well as in the construction design among floor mat products contributes to how well they fit, how they function and how long they last.

For example, while nylon yarns tend to be the most durable and maintain their look best, they tend to cost more. A less expensive choice with strong soil and stain resisting characteristics is polypropylene, which delivers similar durability to nylon depending on how the yarns are tufted and the density of the face.

Behind all that tufting are the backup layers, and how they are engineered really determines the quality of the mat and how it will hold up, Lavender says.

“Layers of mesh, latex and rubber are generally designed to keep mats stiff for proper fit and to help maintain position, as well as moisture barriers. These are factors that affect the quality, durability and cost of the product.”

Cleanly, a value proposition

Carrie Little of WeatherTech, by MacNeil Automotive Products Ltd. based in Downers Grove, Ill., says her company’s FloorLiners product is designed to catch water and prevent debris and dirt from ruining the interior of the vehicle.

In a similar way, WeatherTech’s Cargo Liners line provides trunk and cargo area protection. These liners are digitally designed to custom-fit the vehicle. They also feature a raised lip to keep spills, dirt and grease away from the vehicle’s interior and a textured finish that helps keep cargo from shifting.

Steve Bower, the engineering manager of Winfield, Kan.-based Husky Liners, says all that wear-and-tear prevention has a more pragmatic side.

“The resell or trade-in value of a vehicle is greatly affected by the condition of the carpet,” Bower says. “While mats and liners are protecting carpeting from everyday wear-and-tear, they are also protecting the value of the vehicle. An additional asset is that cleaning the vehicle’s floor is as easy and convenient as lifting the liners out and dumping the collected debris.”

A final benefit that floor and cargo mats bring to a vehicle is very pragmatic.

“Carpet protection is huge,” says Danny Quinney of Westin Automotive, Irwindale, Calif.; but he also believes odors arising from dirty carpet are an indication of a health hazard.

“You’re sitting in your vehicle, breathing that stuff in. Is it mold? Is it mildew?” he queries. “Whatever it is, it’s nasty. Protecting your carpet could help protect your health.”

A matter of style, too

Depending on the vehicle owner’s taste and whether it’s a sedan, luxury car, SUV/CUV or truck, people look for floor mats and cargo liners to provide style and protection.

But “you can’t generalize about product types by vehicle,” says Lavender. “We see people buying our most expensive, luxury floor mats for inexpensive vehicles.”

But there is also a strong market of buyers who are looking for something custom.

“As far as our products are concerned, people buy our products when they want an exact replica of their original full floor carpet, floor mats or cargo area mat,” says Julie Tyson of Anniston, Ala.-based Auto Custom Carpets.

An extreme way to look at the market is Bower’s tongue-in-cheek observation that there are two groups of customers: “those who don’t want to see any of their factory carpeting with the product installed and those who do.”

But whether that’s extreme or just an over-simplification, there is still much to glean from each customer’s lifestyle.

“Customers with a ‘rugged’ vehicle or who live in a rugged area choose the products with the most coverage and capacity to contain dirt and spills,” he points out. “Customers whose vehicle – and shoes – rarely leave pavement may opt for the traditional ‘rubber’ style, flat floor mat without raised edges. Styling is a consideration, as well, and both flat mats and contoured liners come in a variety of styles.”

Which points to the fact that there is a wide variety of floor protection products available.

“You can go to a mass retailer and buy something thin and flimsy for around $10, or you can spend hundreds of dollars,” says Quinney.

Ultimately, he says people are looking for something that will not only protect the bottom of the floor, but will also protect the carpet going slightly up the sides, as well.

A roster of types and uses

Buyers of aftermarket floor mats seem to fit in one category: people who own vehicles.

“Camping and outdoorsy folks are not our only target customer,” says Quinney. “If you eat, drink, or walk through snow, rain, dirt or oil, floor liners are for you. Pretty much the only people we don’t want buying our products are people who don’t have vehicles. Unless, of course, they have friends who do.”

Little concurs: Buyers include families, hunters, bicyclists, construction workers, landscapers, winter drivers and car enthusiasts.

There are three main reasons people buy aftermarket floor mats, according to Lavender.

First, the originals are worn and need to be replaced; second, the mats don’t fit or perform well; and third, looks and styling.

He says that for the most part products tend to be made either from carpet and textiles, rubber and rubber compositions, or vinyl; but there has been a trend recently toward more crossover types of floor mat products.

For example, molded plastic and rubber trays and liners are now coming with bonded fabric on the face, in addition to the original plastic surfaces.

Bower says his company can provide a few options including flat die-cut mats, carpeted mats, cargo liners, floor mats, floor liners and hybrid floor liners. Flat die-cut mats are a less expensive – and a less protective – alternative to custom products. Most cargo area liners have a raised perimeter wall to capture spills. Floor mats are more flexible in order to conform to the shape of the floor and are mostly made from synthetic rubber. Floor liners are custom molded to the contours of the floor. Hybrid floor liners are also custom molded using a similar material to that used in floor mats.

Custom customers

There is some demand for personalized floor mats, although not a large part of the market. These are more often used as a marketing and promotional tool, but restylers have some opportunities to help prospective clients with such orders.

“We have several automotive dealership clients for which we manufacture mats with their logos,” says Lavender.

He says the range of options is broad, and is usually easier to peruse on websites or in a merchandising book that dealers keep at the parts counter.

Auto Custom Carpets sells miniature molds of carpet and floor mats that shops can use to display the molded full-floor carpet. “The miniature floor mats show off our grip-lock backing and licensed embroidered logos if they choose,” says Tyson.

More often than not, customized requests are handled on a case-by-case basis and require higher-volume purchase commitments because special tooling needs to be created.

“If a customer is in need or desires a customized product, they or their retailer will need to contact a company direct,” says Bower. “There are some carpeted mat products that can be custom stitched with a requested image or design.”

Showroom displays do a lot to help consumers understand the options. These include display racks that cater to specific liner makes and models, employing cards or rings with color swatches.

Larger samples allow customers to get a good feel of the material. Many manufacturers supply retailers with point-of-purchase merchandizing kits that are refundable after a certain amount of product is sold.

“Mats for vehicle passenger and cargo areas are one of the most popular accessory segments in the automotive aftermarket,” says Lavender. “Retailers should be aware of the features that separate one mat from another and one manufacturer from another.”