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

EPA fines RI polymer company

August 29, 2014 1:20 pm ET

A Rhode Island polymer manufacturer has reached a $60,000 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violating federal clean...    More

Image

Updating a travel icon for the professional millennial

August 29, 2014 11:44 am ET

As part of a drive to expand its customer base to include more millennials, Airstream Inc. turned to the Columbus College of Art & Design's...    More

Image

Chinese compounders seek market shares, often at the expense of margins

August 29, 2014 10:02 am ET

China's largest compounder, Kingfa Sci. & Tech. Co. Ltd., as well as its more automotive-focused counterparts Shanghai Pret Composites Co. Ltd. and...    More

Image

Green trend boosts plastic building materials business in China

August 29, 2014 9:42 am ET

The greening of China's domestic building materials market is giving the plastics industry a boost.    More

Polish injection molder Teknorubber up for sale

August 29, 2014 9:14 am ET

Polish plastic parts maker Teknorubber has been put up for sale following its insolvency filing in March 2014. The company is to be auctioned through ...    More

Market Reports

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report analyzes economic and market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as growth strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies.

Learn more

Pipe, Profile & Tubing Extrusion in North America 2014

U.S. demand for extruded plastics is expected to grow by 3 percent in 2014, with PVC remaining the largest segment.

Plastic pipe will post the strongest gains through 2018, continuing to take market share from competing materials in a range of markets.

Our latest market report provides in-depth analysis of current trends and their financial impact on the pipe, profile and tubing extrusion industry in North America.

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

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