Sabic: Plastic body panels are coming back

Lindsay Chappell

Published: August 9, 2012 6:00 am ET

Related to this story

Topics Materials, Sustainability, Automotive, Design

TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. (Aug. 9, 1:05 p.m. ET) — The future looks brighter for plastic exterior vehicle parts as automakers intensify their search for weight-saving ideas.

After suffering a blow nearly a decade ago, when General Motors abandoned its pioneering use of polymer body panels on its Saturn lineup, plastics are poised for a comeback, says Venkatakrishnan Umamaheswaran global automotive marketing director for Sabic Innovative Plastics.

The two main reasons:

1. Weight reduction is a more urgent priority for automakers in 2012, and plastics offer as much as a 50 percent weight savings over comparable parts made of steel.

2. Suppliers have made manufacturing with plastic parts easier and less expensive.

Umamaheswaran says Sabic is getting orders to supply new programs. Most of them are in Europe and Asia, he acknowledges, including fenders and other exterior pieces on recent vehicles from Renault, Peugeot, Citroen, Mitsubishi and Chery.

And makers of a number of U.S.-market vehicles also are considering Sabic plastic exterior parts for upcoming models, he says.

“American car manufacturers went through that phase one of plastic body panels, and we believe that a phase two is imminent and coming,” Umamaheswaran says.

The 2002 Saturn Vue had plastic body panels, but General Motors was dissatisfied with the material’s exterior appearance. The panels needed room to expand when hot, resulting in wider than normal gaps in the body.

GM, which struggled a decade ago to rekindle sales of its plastic-clad Saturn vehicles, concluded that plastic didn’t deliver the quality it wanted for exterior appearances. The panels needed room to expand when hot, resulting in wider than normal gaps in the body.

“The industry was still in its infancy when GM was making plastic body panels,” Umamaheswaran says. “We’ve made some big strides in the chemistry of plastics in the past decade, and the industry is starting to reconsider us.”

Interior and exterior plastics and composites combined account for less than one-tenth of the average light vehicle’s body weight, according to the American Chemistry Council, an association that represents the key automotive plastics suppliers.

One key innovation allows for easier painting of plastic parts today. Electrostatic painting, which directs paint with an electrical charge, didn’t work on plastic parts, and factories needed two separate paint lines to handle the material.

Plastic suppliers have now enhanced the raw material by mixing in a conductive filler that makes the plastic behave like a steel part for painting.

“We’ve made the material much friendlier for the production process, and the industry is responding to this around the world,” he says. “There are some significant projects coming up.”


Comments

Sabic: Plastic body panels are coming back

Lindsay Chappell

Published: August 9, 2012 6:00 am ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Vinyl siding's lead slips, but industry pushing back

July 29, 2014 2:04 pm ET

Vinyl siding continues to be the top cladding choice for home builders and remodelers but fiber cement is gaining ground — at an alarming rate...    More

Unipex Group buys Ferguson Chemical Innovation

July 29, 2014 1:57 pm ET

Chemical distributor Unipex Group Inc. announced July 29 that it had purchased Ferguson Chemical Innovation, a Brampton, Ontario-based supplier of...    More

Image

Magna expanding interiors site in Slovakia

July 29, 2014 1:47 pm ET

Magna International Inc. plans to nearly double the size of its manufacturing facility in Trnava, in western Slovakia, to accommodate new automotive...    More

Image

Carbon black supplier Orion begins trading on NYSE

July 29, 2014 11:29 am ET

Orion Engineered Carbons S.a.r.l. has priced the initial public offering of 19.5 million common shares at a price to the public of $18 per share.    More

Image

Dow sees solid second quarter performance

July 29, 2014 11:19 am ET

Dow Chemical Co. has reported its second quarter figures, with its seventh consecutive quarter of growth, according to the company.
More

Market Reports

Plastics Recyclers Data Report & Directory

This exclusive MS Excel database contains all the companies from Plastics News' ranking of top North American Recyclers and Brokers by reprocessed volume and also includes a directory with materials processes, services offered and company contact information. Data is based on primary research by PN editorial staff.

Learn more

2014 Injection Molding Industry Report

GROWTH, OPPORTUNITY IN SIGHT FOR INJECTION MOLDERS IN 2014

In the wake of the economic turbulence earlier in this decade, molders today find themselves in much better shape. Molders are gaining a competitive advantage by investing in people, equipment and seeking inroads into new markets on a global scale.

Growth in the injection molding industry is going to be driven by low financing costs and a continued move to reshore some business.

Learn more

Shale Gas Market - Analysis of North American Region

This report highlights the impact of shale-based natural gas on the North American plastics market and features an in-depth analysis of production trends in the United States during 2013 and a forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events