DUSSELDORF, GERMANY - While plastic is the primary material used in automotive interiors, there still is plenty of room for further replacements of other materials. Nearly half of all plastics in automobiles today are used in the interior, but that is expected to grow because of opportunities for cost and weight reductions and improved performance characteristics, according to Robert Eller, an industry consultant based in Akron, Ohio.
Eller and Jean-Louis Vaysse, technical director for Plastic Omnium Industries of Levallois, France, said plastics offer a better cost-to-performance ratio than any other materials, and they expect automakers to continue to take advantage of those characteristics.
``Both [automotive] interior materials and fabrication technologies appear to be in a state of rapid change,'' Eller said at AutoPlas '95 in Dusseldorf.
``Total interior plastics usage per vehicle has not changed significantly over the past 10 years since the major substitutions for nonplastic materials were made in the 1970s,'' Eller said.
However, he added, that is about to change.
``In the next several years, there will be substitutions for metals based on the ability of plastic fabrication processes to consolidate parts and to achieve impressive weight and cost savings, and there will be intense inter-materials competition between plastics for a share of the interiors market,'' according to Eller.
Vaysse said he sees competition arising not only among plastics, aluminum and magnesium, but also between plastics, such as PP and ABS, or PVC and polyurethane.
Vaysse said he sees competition becoming heated in the race for automotive suppliers to perform research and development and to deliver systems that help automakers reduce weight. Also, Vaysse said, new, lighter-weight automotive products will have to be recyclable.
Eller gave examples of how plastics recently have replaced metals in several applications, such as cross-car support beams for instrument panels, and substrates for rear seats.
Separately, Eller and Vaysse said the automotive supply industry is going through structural changes itself that are forcing smaller companies to affiliate or merge with larger companies.
Those structural changes are leaving second- and third-tier suppliers behind, and are requiring first-tier suppliers to be progressive, full-service suppliers on a global basis.