WASHINGTON — The American Plastics Council is planning a major initiative to boost the profile of plastics among carmakers — including setting up a technical center and the launching of advertising targeted at the automotive market.
The effort will center on Detroit, and will be the first time the trade group has targeted a specific end market in its advertising, in this case auto industry engineers and professionals.
The effort signals some stepped-up competition among materials suppliers in Detroit, with the steel industry set this spring to revamp its targeted advertising around a new lightweight car project.
APC officials are not releasing details of their effort, including the money to be spent, type of advertising and what automotive applications might be targeted, until it is announced Feb. 23 at the Society of Automotive Engineers show in Detroit.
``The notion is that plastics have made some inroads, but it's like plastics in other applications ... it doesn't immediately come to mind as something that should be looked at,'' said APC spokesman Jack LaCovey. ``Part of this program is designed to change that.''
Whether the campaign will be a multiyear effort depends on how well it is received, he said. LaCovey said the advertising effort will be funded from Washington-based APC's current ad budget, which is about $17 million a year.
APC officials would not talk in detail about the technical center, but officials involved in the project have said it will be in the Detroit area and will showcase plastics in durables applications, particularly automobiles, and give engineers a first-hand look at developments.
The APC effort comes as plastics are making some major inroads in the auto market, including an announcement by Chrysler Corp. in early January that it hopes to put a car with a thermoplastic body structure into commercial production between 2003 and 2007.
But metals also are showing a ``tremendous amount'' of innovation and developing new technology to compete in the push for lighter materials, including hydroforming that uses high-pressure liquids to lighten the metals' weight, said David Cole, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
``Everybody is aggressive right now,'' he said. ``Consequently it is a real horse race.''
The steel industry has advertised in the Detroit area since 1992, and is unveiling a new, $500,000 effort in automotive trade publications and on radio, said Nancy Gravatt, spokeswoman for the American Iron & Steel Institute in Washington.
The ads will feature the Ultralight Steel Auto Body project, a lightweight car being developed by Porche and a consortium of 35 steel companies around the world, she said. The ads will emphasize steel's commitment to the federal government's efforts to make cars lighter and more fuel-efficient, and to make them from more-affordable materials, she added
An Aluminum Association official, Jane Lichter, downplayed the advertising, and said industry prefers ``working more in partnerships with the auto companies rather than running an advertising campaign.''