DETROIT — While a 3-year-old engineering resin from Montell Polyolefins is now taking its first dance with automotive applications, the best may be yet to come.
Montell's Hivalloy material, a styrene-based olefinic alloy, is being considered for Chrysler Corp.'s all-plastic car body now in development by the carmaker, said Chad Waldschmidt, market development manager at Montell's Troy, Mich., automotive office.
The Chrysler project also is considering a high-impact PET material from Ticona GmbH. The carmaker has said it would like to develop a prototype vehicle for the North American market within five years, made from a lightweight, injection molded plastic structural shell.
That work could revolutionize the use of thermoplastics for exterior body panels.
Montell has provided a 35 percent glass-reinforced Hivalloy product that would graft polystyrene polymers onto a polypropylene alloy for the Chrysler project.
Preliminary tests have shown the material meets Chrysler's requirements for impact and durability, Waldschmidt said.
The material passed a demanding, 200,000-mile road test without cracking or separating, he said.
``We expect to know in a few months whether a vehicle can be built from our material for a world car sold in the United States and Europe,'' Waldschmidt said. ``We're working on improving surface finish.''
Montell, a wholly owned company of Royal/Dutch Shell, began commercial production with Hivalloy three years ago. The material is the first engineering resin developed by the material supplier, which has its U.S. headquarters in Wilmington, Del.
The resin, and a new Hivalloy W grade offering increased weatherability, will compete with acrylic styrene acrilonitrile, polycarbonate, ABS and nylon formulations for certain applications.
The ability to mold in color gives Montell an advantage, Waldschmidt said. The Hivalloy resin not only offers better stiffness and impact resistance than Montell's line of polyolefins; they also can be molded with a high gloss finish matched to a car's exterior or interior.
The supplier is shopping a window cowl vent grille — the piece going directly under the front windshield — molded in a shiny black. The company said that a pricier painted unit would cost as much as $8 more per pound to paint than for a Hivalloy piece with molded-in color.
A question, though, is the material's higher cost compared to PP and other olefins, said Phil Sarnacke, a Midland, Mich.-based analyst with consultant Philip Townsend Associates Inc. ``They have a good material on their hands if they can keep their costs competitive,'' Sarnacke said.
Montell argues that the material's price is competitive with other engineering resin blends, such as PC/ABS, said Kenneth Dargis, director of Montell's Hivalloy resins business. At the same time, about 20 percent less material is needed than with conventional resins due to Hivalloy's lower density requirements, he said.
``Cost is important and may determine how far we get in automotive,'' Dargis said. ``But we can offer this at reduced prices in certain applications because less material is needed.''
The company already has attracted automakers' attention at Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp.
An impact-modified grade of the material is being used on Chrysler's 1999 Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicle for an upper interior pillar near the instrument panel. The part, due out later this year, is being molded by Troy, Mich.-based Textron Automotive Co.
In addition, Ford is using another interior trim piece surrounding the air bag door for the 1999 Lincoln Continental. That part is being molded by Holland, Mich.-based Prince Corp. for Cleveland-based TRW Inc., which makes the air bags for the Ford product.
The company also has several other products undergoing testing by automakers and large suppliers, Waldschmidt said. The company is working with a Tier 1 supplier to develop a new exterior mirror to compete with such traditional materials at GE Plastics' GTX blend, ABS and polycarbonate/ABS blends.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Chrysler also are considering a wheel cover made of Hivalloy, Waldschmidt said.
With new products comes the need for higher volumes. Montell plans to announce an expansion this fall to increase the size of its Lake Charles, La., plant where Hivalloy is produced, Dargis said. The company would like to hike production to 40 million pounds annually by the end of 1999, Dargis said.
Currently, the plant produces about 10 million pounds of Hivalloy a year.
The company also would like to build a plant to support European business, Dargis said. That plant probably would be built early in the next century, he added.