Chrysler Corp. has sliced two years off its planned lead time to get a vehicle with an all-plastic body on the road.
If the company approves the plan, the Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker could move into production with the lightweight car, featuring a body shell made almost entirely of plastic, by 2001, said Chrysler spokesman Scott Fosgard.
The carmaker previously had planned to shoot for 2003 to produce a roadworthy plastic vehicle. But with materials now under intense scrutiny, the company decided to shorten its time line.
The automaker has not yet decided which vehicle style might be introduced in 2001.
Chrysler has trotted out concept vehicles at several auto shows featuring body models based on its Dodge Intrepid family sedan, a sleek sports car, an entry-level compact built on its Dodge Neon platform and a no-frills car, called the Composite Concept Vehicle, for developing countries.
The firm also might decide to base the vehicle on a yet-unpublicized design, Fosgard said.
The automaker would like to go beyond a low-priced plastic car for Third World countries —Chrysler's initial focus — and concentrate on North America and other developed nations, said Larry Oswald, Chrysler executive engineer for advanced body engineering.
The company currently is testing two possible body-panel materials, a glass-reinforced PET blend from Ticona GmbH and Montell Polyolefin's Hivalloy engineered resin. Chrysler would like to narrow its sights to one material by the first of next year, Oswald said.
``PET is still considered the leading candidate in our vehicle designs,'' Oswald said. ``That's partly because we've been able to purchase more of it in a timely manner. But we still have some issues facing us.''
Among those are a body panel's repairability, or the ease of repairing a dented panel without having to replace the entire piece, and its repeatability, or molding panels identical in surface quality in large volumes, Oswald said.
Meanwhile, Chrysler is putting its competing materials suppliers through hoops. The carmaker has gone through several versions of Ticona's Impet-brand PET resin to find a perfect fit, Oswald said. And the Hivalloy material is in its fifth iteration with Chrysler, said Chad Waldschmidt, Hivalloy market development manager based at Montell's Troy, Mich., automotive center.
A Ticona spokesman said the Summit, N.J., company is working closely with Chrysler but did not want to comment on material developments. It has used a 15 percent glass-filled PET made in Shelby, N.C., for the project.
Montell has shifted its olefin Hivalloy compound for the project. It now provides an alloy that grafts on an acrylic instead of one using a polyphenylene sulfide material. The acrylic provides better surface appearance, Waldschmidt said.