US auto parts makers try to get out from under hood - sources

28 April 2009 21:09  [Source: ICIS news]

STERLING HEIGHTS, Michigan (ICIS news)--Automotive plastics makers are hoping that consumers demanding green technology and new government carbon emissions regulations will give their products greater spin, sources said on Tuesday.

“They’re trying to get out from under the hood, going for fenders, the hood itself,” said a Ford Motors engineer on the sidelines of the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Auto Epcon conference.

Automakers are facing an increasingly environmentally conscious government and buying base. In March, the Obama administration raised industry-wide fuel efficiency requirements by 2 miles/gal for the 2011 model year. Under the new standards, cars will have to average 30.2 miles/gal and light trucks 24.1 miles/gal.

States are also looking at their own fuel efficiency and emissions standards. Last week, California regulators approved cutting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by 16m tonnes by 2020.

Auto suppliers have been working on integrating plastics above and below the vehicles of the future to make them lighter. Bayer Material Science promoted its polycarbonate (PC) “sky view", a plastic bubble that caps a car - basically a 360-degree windshield.

Woco Motor Acoustic Systems promoted its plastic muffler.

“We all have a responsibility now for environmental consciousness,” Woco’s Roman Lopez-Forment said. “New solutions have to be found to reduce weight and increase fuel efficiency.”

Lopez said the plastic muffler would not make vehicles quieter, but would reduce the parts' weight by 30%. That would give auto manufacturers the option of using current size standards and claiming fewer CO2 emissions or increasing size for better horsepower.

The company is currently working with multiple OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to put the muffler into commercial production, Lopez said.

Even paint was not safe from plastic manufacturers' ambitions.

Bruce Mulholland of Ticona Engineering Polymers tried to convince a room full of engineers that colour-treated “metallic” plastic resins could replace most, if not all, metal chastises - although a highly-polished chrome look is still beyond the resins’ reach.  

“There are two drivers for doing this,” Mulholland said.  “If you use a moulded metallic material instead of paint, it’s better for the environment and it lowers cost. If it’s the monetary green that drives it, that’s fine - the environmental green will follow.”

A typical gallon of paint contains up to 3 lbs of volatile organic compound (VOCs) pollutants, while painted parts typically cannot be recycled. Ticona has matched up to 24 paint colors with its polymers, with Ford formally approving six for use with its vehicles, Mulholland said.

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By: Ben Lefebvre
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