Monday, December 8th, 2008

Plastics Continue to Drive Automobile Innovation

Top-level executives from Detroit’s Big Three automobile manufacturers were in Washington, D.C. last week – the second visit in as many months –  trying to make their case to Congress on why they need a $34 billion loan to save their industry. CNN reported that President-elect Obama is already contemplating options for assisting U.S. automakers in addition to whatever action Congress decides.

Sprinkled throughout discussion of the auto crisis is the notion that in order to become more competitive, U.S. automakers must catch up in the areas of innovation, new technology, fuel efficiency and the further realization of alternative fuel vehicles.

Whether it’s the automobile innovations that are already in production today or those that will emerge around the next bend, plastics – lightweight, strong, durable, flexible and cost-efficient — are not only onboard but are often in the driver’s seat.  For example, in a recent interview with Automotive Industries magazine, Lynne Harris, SPI’s senior vice president of science and technology,  cites thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) as “one of the fastest growing auto-related material families… Look for new formulations for exterior panels, interior assemblies, interior and exterior trim, under hood and under-chassis applications, fuel lines and fuel tanks, and electronics and wiring.”

The Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Division gave out its 38th annual Innovation Awards in November to honor new and creative ideas that are inside cars already in production. Viewing and reading about the award winners, and even the finalists, makes it clear that innovation is alive and well in the auto industry and is a reminder of just how essential plastic is to making modern cars more safe, affordable, environmental and efficient to drive and produce.

Indeed, as Maria Ciliberti, chair of the 2008 awards and global automotive director for Ticona, stated, “What you see are numerous innovations that are truly the “First-Time Ever Implemented” applications, many of which resulted in trademarked vehicle options; process, design and material patents; and licensed rights of practice. The Automotive Innovation Awards Gala… is packed with ideas on how OEMs can meet the new, corporate-average fuel economy (CAFE) standard of 35 mpg/15 km/liter by the year 2020 without sacrificing safety, aesthetics, cost-competitiveness, or manufacturing efficiencies.”


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