DETROIT - Ford's new heavyweight has turned to plastic to shed some pounds before competing in the crowded arena of large trucks. The AeroMax 9500 from Ford Motor Co. contains 450 pounds of sheet molding compound, replacing steel and other composite materials in a variety of body applications.
``That's a whale of a lot of SMC,'' said Jim Grzelak, sales engineer at Eagle-Picher Automo-tive, an SMC supplier. ``It's the most used on any vehicle in the U.S., and we believe, the most on any vehicle in the world.''
SMC - a combination of resin, glass and filler - has been used primarily for body panels in cars, trucks and commercial vehicles. SMC also is showing up as structural parts, such as the radiator support assembly on the 1996 Ford Taurus.
It is sought by car and truck makers to shave weight from vehicle parts, said Erin Millerschin, program director of SMC Auto-motive Alliance, an association of 30 molders and raw materials suppliers.
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. supplied SMC for the AeroMax 9500's hood, fenders, air-intake grille and cowl side panels. Eagle-Picher's Grabill, Ind., plant supplies the doors and aerodynamic parts like the air foil above the roof and the fairing components such as the long piece extending along each side of the chassis.
The AeroMax's huge instrument panel is supplied by Ford's plastics plant in Saline, Mich., and interior trim comes fromEagle-Picher.
Previously, it was common to find about 175-180 pounds of SMC on heavy-duty trucks, primarily for hoods and front fender extensions, Grzelak said. In contrast, the Lincoln Continental has about 35 pounds of SMC, using the plastic for the hood, deck lid and taillight housing.
By using 450 pounds, Ford isshowing its confidence in the durability of SMC, said Roger Schwartz, Eagle-Picher vice president of automotive sales. It is not unusual for heavy-duty tractors to rack up more than 1 million miles as they crisscross the country hauling their freight.
Production of the new AeroMax began last month at Ford's Kentucky Truck Plant. AeroMax 9500 is Ford's first new Class 8 tractor in 25 years. Class 8 tractors tip the scale at more than 33,001 pounds in gross vehicle weight.
Ron Robbins, director of marketing and sales for Ford's commercial trucks, said, ``Truck sales in 1996 will be less than in 1995 but could be the second-best in history.''
He said 580 orders are in hand for the new AeroMax. The Kentucky plant has annual capacity for 42,000 AeroMax units.
Correspondent Roger Rowand contributed to this report.