CHICAGO - Car manufacturers, trying to reduce overall vehicle weight and nearly triple fuel economy, are looking toward polyurethane compositions as the material of choice. But the gains won't come without a cost, industry officials said.
Many PU chemical suppliers and parts makers will have to rethink the way they do business if they wish to be successful in today's highly competitive auto-motive market.
Auto industry officials discussed the trend toward partnering at the Society of Plastics Industry Inc.'s Polyurethane Division meeting, held Sept. 26-29 in Chicago.
The Big Three have been teaming up with the federal government for seven years on non-competitive issues, said John E. Fillion, Chrysler Corp. manager of organic materials engineering.
The project-The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles-calls for: reduced manufacturing costs and times, near-term advances in recycling and emission issues, and development of a new class of fuel-efficient vehicles that get as much as 80 miles per gallon.
Aluminum bodies offer substantial weight reduction, yet are not as recyclable as steel and cost twice as much, he said. Body composites of materials such as urethane are gaining popularity because they offer weight and cost reductions, along with recyclability.
But the trend toward PU solutions will not translate into sales for all firms - just those that cater to automakers' demands, officials said.
``As the auto industry goes global, the supplier game is getting a lot tougher,'' said Michael S. Flynn of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.
As the criteria for competition become more similar around the globe and automakers continue to pare their customer base, more weight is being placed on the supplier-manufacturer relationship, Flynn said.
Urethane part makers and their suppliers are being asked to take on more development work even before contracts are discussed, said Larry Leinczek, marketing manager, Magna International's Atoma Interior Systems group.
``The problem with bringing suppliers in before you have an order is, you run into the, `What am I going to get out of this?' syndrome,'' Leinczek said.
But ultimately, only the PU suppliers and part manufacturers that work together will be successful, he said: ``Partnering is something we can no longer afford not to do.''