DETROIT - Plastics and recycling don't rank very high on auto industry executives' panels of hot buttons. An in-depth survey shows executives feel the most important issue facing the industry is cost, and plastics are losers in that arena. The University of Michigan's Delphi VIII, the latest in an ongoing series of forecasts and analyses, indicates weight will be another strong determinant in materials selection over the next five years; plastics fare a little better there. Executives in the study say they will ``look more closely'' at lower-weight but higher-cost materials.
The cost/weight dilemma, however, will continue for at least 10 years.
``Although there will be a continued effort to reduce weight, the forecast is for aluminum and plastic to make only small gains in body panel usage in the coming decade,'' Delphi III says.
The panelists rate steel body panels as having significant advantages over aluminum and plastic in the raw materials cost, component processing, assembly and vehicle disposal stages of the product life cycle. Steel, thermoplastics and thermosets are viewed as equally advantageous only in the design and field use stages of the life cycle, the study shows.
An early draft of Delphi III was unveiled at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit Jan. 8. David Cole, director of the school's Study of Automotive Transport, discussed the work.
Manufacturers in the years just ahead, panelists said, will restrict the number of plastic types in a vehicle, limit the use of plastics that are viewed as uneconomical to recycle and pass recycling requirements through to suppliers. However, they see no limits on amounts of plastics used and no substitution of lightweight metals for plastics.
``Styling themes continue to promote large glass surfaces. As more glass is used, it becomes more of a candidate to be at least partially replaced by lightweight alternatives such as polycarbonates. However, panelists forecast no application of polycarbonates as an alternative window material by 2000 and only modest usage by 2005. Special coatings and interlayers are expected to increase in usage through the coming decade,'' the draft said.
Cole said recycling is of prime importance to cores of people within auto companies but the issue is not considered one of general significance.
Panelists in the study strongly suggest a need for improved protection from perforation corrosion. They predict vehicle weight will decrease by 5 percent by 2000 and 10 percent by 2005.
Cole said some 300 experts were surveyed, including manufacturers, suppliers, consultants and academics. Chief executive officers, presidents and vice presidents make up 25 percent; directors, executives and managers 59 percent; engineers, supervisors and leaders 10 percent and consultants 5 percent.