The automotive industry is becoming a skunk works of plastics innovation.
Last year's North American International Auto Show featured two Chrysler Corp. concept cars with all-plastic bodies.
This year DaimlerChrysler AG took another big step, showing a sport utility vehicle with a fiberglass body. If the car goes into production, thermoplastic PET probably will replace fiberglass, according to company officials.
Not to be outdone, Ford Motor Co. stole the spotlight by using the Detroit show to announce that it had purchased 51 percent of Pivco Industries AS, the maker of the innovative Th!nk car.
The purchase saved Pivco from bankruptcy, which has to be good news for the company's trailblazing technology. Pivco has developed an electric car with a six-piece HDPE — yes, high density polyethylene — body.
It's been nearly 10 years since General Motors introduced the plastic-skin Saturn models. But these prototypes take a big step beyond the Saturn — they don't have steel sheets positioned behind the plastic to absorb impact.
Considering the safety issues, automakers have been right to take their time converting steel bodies to plastic. Car companies now seem increasingly comfortable with thermoplastic bodies. The question is, will consumers feel the same way?