Steel organization outshines plastics industry at Detroit auto show

Comments Email Print

The Honda Ridgeline, known for its composite truck bed, won the North American Truck of the Year award announced at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

This is a big win for the plastics industry. Not only did Honda embrace the composite truck bed in the first version of the truck released in 2006, but in the updated Ridgeline (the one that won the award), the automaker doubled down. Honda improved the truck bed, making it a true centerpiece of the truck when it was unveiled last year.

During its party to celebrate the big win, executives filled the in-bed trunk with ice, and tossed about a dozen bottles of champagne inside. The Honda folks toasted to the victory on Jan. 9 just hours after unveiling the next generation Odyssey. The only thing that was missing was music blasting from the speakers embedded in the composite trunk bed.

It’s the exact sort of tailgate party Honda envisioned when they released the truck at the same show a year ago.

So it was a big surprise when a trade association was celebrating the truck at the show, and it wasn’t one supporting the plastics industry.

Instead it was the Steel Market Development Institute.

On display was a version of the truck that was stripped down to show off all the steel on it. Gone was the inside dash and most importantly, the composite bed. Well, the entire bed wasn’t gone. A small piece was showing, but it was only there to highlight the fact that steel held the bed in place.

The steel industry was fighting for its material, and its members. Where were the plastics associations?

Plastics companies were at the auto show from molders to compounders. Among the companies that dabble in plastics that held news events and showed off products included Adient, Magna International, Röchling Automotive, Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, PolyOne Corp. and Hella Corp., amongst a few others. Others, including Covestro, met with reporters individually. But no trade association to carry the water for the industry as a whole.

That’s not to say plastics associations weren’t in Detroit for the show. Representatives from the American Chemistry Council and the Society of Plastics Engineers were at the Plastics in Automotive conference (organized by Plastics News). Those same folks were likely around the auto show itself. They just didn’t have a booth like the Steel Market Development Institute.

The Steel Market Development Institute doesn’t make a small show of it either. It comes every year to the North American International Auto Show. And I’m certain its display location is no accident.

Every journalist at the show — all 5,000 them from 60 different countries — must walk past the steel display before they get to the free food and the media center. Trust me, reporters notice what’s standing between them and free pizza.

The Steel Market Development Institute also had notepads and pens for the forgetful journalists that left their most essential tools in the hotel room.

The North American International Auto Show is not just a place for the automakers to show off new models. This is a time when just about every engineer in Detroit shows up, checks out what’s new and talks with customers (or potential customers).

As I was chatting with a materials supplier in front of a concept vehicle during industry days, an important player from an automaker started chatting with him. They talked technology and exchanged information. This is how relationships are formed, and minds are changed.

The next major step in lightweighting for vehicles is structural plastics, and it seems like the steel industry is ready for the fight. I hope the plastics industry will be as well.

Carroll is assistant managing editor and video editor for Plastics News. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremyscarroll.