A BLOW MOLDED CAR IS NOT DAD'S VEHICLE

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Automotive purists probably blanched at hearing Chrysler Corp. Vice Chairman Robert Lutz describe his company's research into a blow molded car.

It's an intriguing concept. If the military can effectively use plastic weapons for national defense, such as the M-16 rifle, why not blow mold a car body?

Lutz told Plastics News' sister publication Automotive News that Detroit could cut 25 percent from the list price of a car if vehicles were produced with molded-in color. That would provide a significant retailing boost to the Big Three. The average list price of a new automobile today is about $24,000, which produces industry-depressing sticker-shock among consumers.

One of the problems Lutz says must be overcome is the finish of the product. A polished, glossy look is not yet achievable with molded-in color. That's a large problem. Shine is important to car buyers, for whom drab is not the wind beneath their wings. There is also, given the consumer equation of plastic as cheap, uncertainty whether people would buy a plastic car. Some will, obviously, but the question involves one of numbers.

There are compelling economic reasons other than simply sticker price to further the use of plastics in automobiles. They include energy savings from weight reduction, gains in manufacturing productivity, lower repair or replacement costs and greater environmental and recycling benefits.

A significant number of consumer products are paving the way for the eventual production of plastic cars in some form, ranging from refrigerators and furniture to building construction materials. This clearly evolutionary process may not mean that Little Tikes will some day be a Tier 1 supplier, but it does strongly suggest that the direction the auto industry is headed looks good for plastics.

Given the right technology, Lutz says he can see the day when a car can be blow molded, ``like a Clorox bottle.'' His vision is good. Chrysler just needs to make sure the vehicle doesn't look like a bleach bottle.