Dingy headlights? 3M Co. has a solution.
In November, it soft launched the new 3M Quick Headlight Renewal Kit at the Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show in Las Vegas.
Now it's selling the kits at Advance Auto Parts retail stores and working to get them in Wal-Mart stores nationwide within a year.
The product, which employs a 3M scratch-removing abrasive called Trizact, is designed to allow any car owner to easily restore their headlights without the need for tools.
Over time, sun, age and oxidation can wreak havoc on vehicle lights and dim their effectiveness. The new product's goal is to improve visibility and safety.
"We estimate 25 percent of all vehicles on the road have some level of headlight yellowing, cloudiness or haziness that impedes the light output," said 3M spokeswoman Fanna Haile-Selassie. "For this particular product, we spent a year fine-tuning the components. We did a lot of testing on headlights from the junkyard, as well as real-time [customer testing] to make sure we hit the mark."
3M product developers even walked the parking lots at 3M's Maplewood campus. When they spotted a pair of grungy headlights on an employee's car, they put a Post-it note on the windshield, inviting the driver to a free product kit. The feedback was invaluable, officials said.
Adam Wilt, global manager for the auto-care unit of 3M's automotive aftermarket division, said "We think there is big potential. What we are really excited about is that this gets [3M's Trizact abrasive technology] into the hands of do-it-yourselfers and those who would not normally think they could" repair dingy headlights without the help of a professional.
The new product was brought to market by a handful of 3M automotive product developers and a few 3M marketing pros who collaborated to create a new and easier headlight product for the regular car owner, Wilt said.
3M created its earliest headlight restoration products about seven years ago. But they largely targeted professional repair firms or serious vehicle restoration buffs. And they all required sanders, drills or other tools.
The latest product doesn't require any tools.
Instead Quick Headlight Renewal, which retails for roughly $6.99 per kit, contains a 5,000-grit abrasive pad that's used to rub out scratches by hand. The kit also comes with a liquid scratch remover that gets squirted on and rubbed into the plastic lens for a clean finish.
"That's it. It's meant to be ultra quick and ultra convenient," Wilt said.
3M is not the first to enter this market.
Competing products in the DIY space go by names such as Wipe New, Turtle Wax Headlight Lens Restorer, Wolfgang Plastik Lens Cleaner and LensBright.
Those products may have a jump on the market, but they don't have 3M's Trizact abrasive, Wilt said. "That's what differentiates us, is our technology."
If the product catches on, 3M expects consumers will use it on taillights and lights found on trailers, snowmobiles, motorcycles and police, ambulance and tow truck light bars. Each kit can clean two headlights.
3M officials declined to talk specifically about the market potential of Quick, except to say they hope to capture a portion of a very large market.
"There are 250 million vehicles on the road, so you can imagine how big the opportunity is," Haile-Selassie said.
3M already makes products that address the visibility of highway signs, road lanes and cars. It manufactures reflective road tape, sign brightening films and rugged coatings that make it easy to read car license plates at night.
3M is well known for its tapes and sandpaper, and brought them into the automobile marketplace years ago. Its lightweight adhesives fasten roof fabrics and panels inside cars. Its abrasives and metal-smoothing Bondo putties are standard in wreck repair shops nationwide. 3M also makes auto soundproofing products plus adhesive films that protect car windows and paint.
To spread the word about Quick Headlight Renewal, 3M is launching a national ad campaign. A YouTube video begins next month. TV commercials start later this year. Meanwhile, 3M has updated its auto-care website and social media.