DETROIT — Attendees at the SAE 2000 World Congress had money on their minds, according to the annual survey conducted at the Detroit show by DuPont Automotive and the Society of Automotive Engineers. Half of all respondents to the survey listed cost reduction as a major design and engineering challenge. That's almost 20 percent more than those who listed cost reduction in last year's survey.
"This response shows that the delicate balance we need to drive forward as an industry is precariously skewed," said Walter Fields, DuPont Automotive engineering materials vice president. "If we don't change our perspective, we'll go back to a situation where no real progress is achieved."
Fields said he's concerned that the fixation with cost reduction will cause companies to downscale or eliminate research and development projects that are essential to the long-term health of the industry.
The attitude toward emissions also changed quite a bit from last year's survey. Thirty-one percent of respondents listed emissions as the industry's top challenge, compared with only 13 percent who did so last year.
Interest in recycling seemed to be down, as only 69 percent of respondents said they expect to see more emphasis on recycling this year. Last year, 83 percent of respondents said they expected that to happen.
Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont, one of the world's largest makers of engineering resins, has had to deal with the focus on cost reduction directly, as it has tried to raise prices on its nylon resins, half of which are sold into the automotive market.
"We have to get these increases through if we want to be in business," Fields said. "We're seeing a tightening of capacity, and raw material prices going up, but this is also about being able to reinvest in technology and innovation.
"For the long term, you need to have sustainable players in the value chain," he added. "Prices had reached the point where it was difficult to demonstrate reinvestment economics for new capacity or R&D, and that's not healthy for us or for our industry."
The increases are the first attempts to raise nylon prices since overcapacity caused prices to drop an average of 7 percent in late 1998 and early 1999.
They were set to take hold Jan. 1, but still are being negotiated by most buyers.
Elsewhere, DuPont announced that its nylon chemical recycling efforts in Maitland, Ontario, will be producing recycled-content nylon 6 and 6/6 for the automotive market by 2001.
The process allows nylon 6 and 6/6 carpet fibers to be recycled together, eliminating costly and time-consuming separation, according to DuPont global polymer recycling manager Viktor Williams.
Other new automotive applications touted by DuPont at SAE 2000 included:
- Vibration-welded manifolds for V-8 engines on Ford's 2000 Econoline, Expedition and Excursion vans and sports utility vehicles. The manifolds are the largest in the industry — each using nearly 36 pounds of DuPont's Zytel-brand nylon 6/6, the company said.
- The first thermoplastic rocker covers used by Ford and DaimlerChrysler. Both covers use DuPont's Minlon-brand mineral-reinforced nylon. The Ford cover, used on the 2000 Fiesta, Ka and Escort vehicles in South America, reduces weight and cost 30 percent through component integration.
- The electronic throttle-control mechanism on the 2000 Ford Transit van, which ranks as the top-selling van in the European market.
The part, made with 33 percent glass-reinforced nylon 6/6, significantly reduces the number of components used.
It was developed and produced by Teleflex Automotive, of Philadelphia.