Friday, November 20th, 2009

Plastics Continue to Bring Innovation to Automobiles

As someone who is considering buying a new car, I wanted to do some research as to the latest makes and models. During my research I happened to stumble upon the recent unveilings at the IAA (Internationale Automobil Ausstellung) show in Frankfurt a few weeks ago. I found it really impressive and indicative of the future of plastics and automobiles.

We all are aware of the important role that plastics play in the world of automobiles.  Plastics are used in a wide range of parts – including batteries, body panels, bumpers, dashboard, fuel systems, lighting systems, airbags and upholstery. In addition, plastics offer a bevy of benefits, including:

  • Weight savings to support reduction of fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions
  • No corrosion allowing longer life vehicles
  • Substantial design freedom allowing advanced creativity and innovation
  • Flexibility in integrating components
  • Safety, comfort and economy

So what new and futuristic uses of plastics were exhibited?  For one, BMW showed off a hybrid two-seater as part of its Vision EfficientDynamics program.  The car uses a roof and outer door skins made of what the company calls a “special polycarbonate glass” that automatically darkens as light shines on the car. In addition, the window panes are covered with a polycarbonate laminate on the inside in order to prevent shattered glass particles from penetrating the interior (which could be very important if one got in an accident).

Design consultancy EDAG presented its 150km (93 mile) range all-electric drive light car concept for the first time. The concept design uses “Composite Solar Modules” that feature highly flexible solar panels. These panels are embedded in transparent plastics such as poly(methyl methacrylate) and polycarbonate.

Volkswagen continues to refine its plans for a hyper-efficient car and unveiled the L1 prototype car which is capable of driving 158 mpg.  (See the cool video of this car above.)  To achieve such high levels of efficiency, Volkswagen engineers focused on making the L1 as light and aerodynamic as possible. Carbon fiber skin keeps the body weight to just 273 pounds, while the whole car weighs less than 850 pounds.  Drag has also been reduced by replacing the side mirrors with cameras and enclosing the entire underbody.  If it weren’t for the plastics, this car could not have been created.

Yes, I know that many of the cars unveiled at the show are still in prototype phases.  However,  I’m excited to see cool new uses of plastics in the next generation automobile. Now, if only I could find that 100+ mpg car at my local dealer today.

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