DETROIT — Last year, Haartz Corp. bet $7 million that the auto industry would boost its use of thermoplastic olefins. Now it is seeing just the start of its expected payoff, with two contracts in hand to supply a TPO cover skin for upcoming model years and another dozen programs in development.
"The industry, without a doubt, is heading in that direction [of using TPOs]," Timothy Jackson, director of automotive sales, said May 17 at the Automotive & Transportation Interiors Expo in Detroit.
General Motors Corp. announced in 1999 it would ban PVC in the bulk of its auto interiors by 2004, citing problems ranging from cracking in high temperatures to the desire to have instrument panels with a seamless air-bag cover — which is not possible with PVC.
Even if other automakers have not made announcements, they are looking at alternatives, Jackson said.
Acton, Mass.-based Haartz already has one deal to turn out TPO cover skins for the 2001 Mazda Tribute. On May 16, it announced a second contract for a TPO instrument panel for an unspecified vehicle.
Visteon Corp. of Dearborn, Mich., is making the instrument panel for Mazda. Intertec Systems, a joint venture between Johnson Controls Inc. of Plymouth, Mich., and Inoac Corp. of Nagoya, Japan, is the Tier 1 supplier on the 2002 vehicle.
"We've seen a huge trend toward TPOs," Jackson said.
Haartz spent $7 million in Acton to add new equipment dedicated exclusively to olefin extrusion in 1999.
Also on display were TPO-covered instrument panels Delphi Automotive Systems is turning out to replace PVC systems. ExxonMobil Chemical Co.'s Mytex Polymers Inc. venture supplies the TPO.