DETROIT — The plastics industry quietly has dropped plans for a consortium to develop materials for lightweight vehicles.
The Washington-based American Plastics Council tried to set up a noncompetitive group to explore that idea last year, APC automotive director Al Maten said in August.
But, according to several member companies and APC staff, the resin suppliers preferred to work individually with carmakers rather than as a united front.
Maten alluded to that during a Feb. 23 news briefing at SAE '98 in Detroit.
``Our 26 companies belonging to APC do a great job individually getting plastics on cars,'' Maten said. ``They don't need to work on a pre-competitive basis.''
In contrast, both steel and aluminum companies have banded together to develop lightweight materials for future vehicles to meet expected future emissions standards. Steel companies are developing ultralight materials, while aluminum producers have worked with Ford Motor Co. on body and structural materials for its new generation of vehicles.
To beef up its work with automakers, APC spelled out plans to open a new automotive center, launch a Web site and start an advertising campaign directed at the industry.
The 6,200-square-foot APC Automotive Center in Troy, Mich., could further the cause of carmakers looking for plastics material solutions. It will include a large, multifunctional space that can be used as a classroom, theater or conference room, and actual vehicles showcasing plastics uses.
Scheduled to open in June, the facility also will have a learning center containing a library of information on plastic materials and recycling technology, said William Windscheif, chairman of APC's automotive work group. Virtual imaging design and video conferencing also might be included in the center, which will house APC's automotive offices.
This month, APC also is launching an ad program aimed at automakers. The print and radio ads, with such titles as ``Open Minds Can Do Addition by Subtraction,'' spotlight plastics applications to Big Three carmakers that underscore parts consolidation by substituting plastic for metal.
Full-page print ads will appear in leading automotive trade publications, while 60-second radio spots will debut in the Detroit area. The ads also encourage automakers to call APC's new toll-free information line, (888) 610-6880.
The new automotive Web site, www.plastics-car.com, offers more resources on plastics materials. It was unveiled last week.
The center is one of the first initiatives from new APC President Ron Yocum, who said plastics' continuing development in the auto industry is a top priority.
``I'd like see us work more closely with the auto industry and act as a clearinghouse of ideas,'' he said after the news conference. ``We'd like to listen and exchange thoughts, and the center is a good step for us to begin doing that.''
APC officials said that more than 4 billion pounds of plastics were used in the transportation industry last year, with an average vehicle using about 240 pounds.
Officials with several APC member firms said they prefer working individually with carmakers instead of binding together to outdo metal companies to produce lightweight car bodies.
``Steel is going to be used in many cases along with plastics on the exterior body, depending on performance and cost,'' said Louis Savelli, general manager of Troy-based DuPont Automotive. ``All in all, we're developing a nice level of cooperation between plastics and metals to come up with solutions.''
Resin suppliers also are looking to Chrysler Corp. for the future of lightweight plastic exteriors, added J. Erik Fyrwald, DuPont's director of engineering materials. The automaker is considering the manufacture of plastic body panels from PET or thermoplastic olefins.
``Chrysler is the driver right now,''Fyrwald said. ``But I think it's unrealistic to expect a huge shift to plastics for the production of body panels.''