SAN DIEGO — Polymer matrix composites clad modern-era electric vehicles — the EV1 from General Motors Corp. and the Sparrow from Corbin Pacific Inc. Several other battery-powered concepts, however, displayed traditional stamped metal bodies Dec. 11-13 at the North American EV and Infrastructure Conference in San Diego. Steel or aluminum covered GM's S-10 and Ford Motor Co.'s Ranger pickup trucks, Chrysler Corp.'s EPIC minivan, and models by Toyota Motor Sales USA, Honda Motor Co. and Electric Auto Corp. Product availability dates vary widely, but most anticipate a California mandate that pushes for more zero-emission vehicles by 2003 to cut air pollution.
``In the EV1, plastics have a very significant place,'' Bruce Zemke said in a San Diego interview, ``particularly with resistance to corrosion, insulation properties with regard to electrical systems and, to some extent, the potentially corrosive kinds of materials in the battery electrolytes at this stage of the game.''
Zemke, staff development engineer for GM Advanced Technology Vehicles, said the dent-resistant, rust-free outer panels ``mean the car is going to look very good for a long time.''
GM launched the EV1 sports coupe Dec. 5 through 25 dealers in Southern California and Arizona.
``GM developed, engineered and manufactures the EV1, and Saturn sells and services,'' Joseph Mercurio, GMATV engineering manager for interior systems, said in a telephone interview from his office in Troy, Mich.
The EV1 is the first electric vehicle built from the ground up, the company said.
GM loads a battery pack of 26 12-volt, lead-acid modules in each of the EV1 and S-10 models.
For each EV1, Navistar International Corp. uses about 60 pounds of sheet molding compound to make the hood, doors, roof and trunk lid at its plastics operation in Columbus, Ohio. In September, Navistar reached a definitive agreement to sell a majority interest in the operation to Rymac Mortgage Investment Corp. of Steubenville, Ohio.
Magna Corp. uses about 30 pounds of reinforced reaction injection molded polyurethane to make EV1 front fenders, rear quarter panels, rocker panels, rear wheel skirts and aerodynamic belly pan at its Polyrim division in Thornhill, Ontario.
Magna's Rimply division paints most EV1 parts in Newmarket, Ontario, before forwarding them to Lansing, Mich., where a crew of 50 hourly workers and 17 supervisors assembles the vehicle in a low-technology, craftlike operation. One prototype robot installs windshields.
Recycled plastic scrap from Magna manufacturing operations constitutes about 10 percent of the polymer content in EV1's outer panels.
Cambridge Industries Inc. of Madison Heights, Mich., molds EV1's 30-pound battery tray using a 30 percent glass-reinforced polypropylene.
The Society of Plastics Engineers' Automotive Division named the structural component Nov. 7 as its grand prize winner for innovative use of plastics in 1997 model-year vehicles.
Motorcycle component manufacturer Corbin Pacific displayed its one-person Sparrow commuter vehicle, expected on the market in June at a price of $12,900. The firm introduced a prototype at a November auto show in parking-scarce San Francisco.
Mike Corbin, inventor, designer and president, incorporates two walls of hand lay-up fiberglass and polyester with a core of polyurethane foam to create a monocoque chassis that he calls a ``fiberglass sphere.''
Corbin developed the pre-production prototype at a 17,000-square-foot facility in Castroville, Calif., and is building an 82,000-square-foot plant in Hollister, Calif., with resin transfer molding lines dedicated to manufacturing the Sparrow.
Burtin Corp. in Santa Ana, Calif., supplied a polyurethane-polyurea blend for low-pressure injection molding of the Sparrow's prototype bumpers.
The 990-pound three-wheeler qualifies for a state motorcycle registration fee, access to the car pool lane and motorcycle parking space. Forward and under-seat placement of eight sealed, 12-volt, lead-acid batteries weighing 540 pounds gives the Sparrow a low center of gravity.
Corbin Pacific employs 137 making motorcycle parts, anticipates 1996 sales of $12 million and sees the Sparrow as ``the next logical step to company growth,'' said Tom Corbin, vice president.
The joint venture of Pininfarina SpA of Turin, Italy, and Unique Mobility Inc. of Golden, Colo., contemplates a polymer body on the Ethos 3 EV.
GE Plastics in Pittsfield, Mass., has worked with specialty auto manufacturer Pininfarina and electric-vehicle-systems developer Unique Mobility on engineered thermoplastics research for the Ethos EV's third generation.
``All exterior and interior panels will be thermomolded of Noryl GTX,'' said George Ryder Jr., Pininfarina's North American representative in Troy, Mich.
The joint venture seeks original equipment manufacturers to develop and sell the four-passenger car under individual nameplates. The firm demonstrated the concept with a mockup of fiberglass panels on the aluminum space frame.
GM engineer Tim Roethameyer said the S-10 uses several polymers. GM's Delphi Energy and Engine Management Systems unit in Indianapolis integrates the S-10 battery case, cover and two intermediate trays with Comalloy PP structural foam, and Radiance Ltd. of Chesterfield, Mich., blow molds duct work with a rubber-modified high density polyethylene and injection molds a related plate using a 40 percent glass-reinforced PP. Also, the S-10 has a PP battery thermal module.
Ford will use polymers for rear suspension, battery case and equipment support on the Ranger electric pickup truck when it is introduced to the market in 1998, said Walter Jacques, sales specialist for Ford alternative fuel vehicles in Dearborn, Mich. Fiberglass epoxy in the rear suspension reduces weight. A case of polystyrene and vinyl coating covers the battery and gives structural integrity to the vehicle. And a composite tray supports the electronic equipment under the Ranger's hood.
Conference sponsor Electric Vehicle Association of the Americas, based in San Francisco, reported more than 550 attendees from auto manufacturers, utilities, environmental groups and government agencies.
GM's Zemke saw ``initial, tentative, walking steps as we go forward with OEM vehicles from Ford and Chrysler and GM and [as] energy suppliers put infrastructure in place.''