CHICAGO (July 19, 5:55 p.m. EDT) — Ford Motor Co. is bringing polypropylene into Focus.
With the launch of its newest line of cars, the global Focus platform, the world's second-largest automaker is introducing the first all-PP instrument panel on a North American vehicle.
While PP and thermoplastic olefin recently have taken a bigger chunk of the market for instrument-panel cover skins, Ford is the first to use PP for substrate materials as well in North America, replacing materials such as polycarbonate and ABS.
"(Use of PP) has been the Holy Grail of the automotive market," said Charles E. Platz, president of Montell North America Inc., in June 20 interview at NPE 2000. "We've been working for years in developing this."
Montell is supplying resins for the panel — including its Hifax material using the proprietary Catalloy process. It is molded by Visteon Automotive Systems of Dearborn, Mich. The company displayed a Focus panel at NPE, held June 19-23 in Chicago, along with all PP panels in production in Europe and Japan.
North America was slow to warm to the single-material market, although it has been in use for more than a decade overseas, said Christopher Thomas, innovation program manager for Montell's Automotive Business Group in Troy, Mich.
With one material, the panels are easy to recycle. They offer a 30 percent weight savings over traditional parts and are easy to design and mold.
"All the future (instrument panels) are going to be polypropylene," he said. "The (carmakers) are going to look at it for a long while first, but then they're going to go with it."
In 2000, North American automakers will use an estimated 10 million pounds of PP in instrument panels, up from none in 1999, said William J. Windscheif, director of sales and marketing for the group.
Within four years, he expects annual use to climb to 60 million pounds.
Focus represents a major starting point. Ford estimates it will sell more than 200,000 of the vehicles each year, offering a three-door "sport" model, a four-door sedan and a station wagon. It sold 26,050 in May alone and nearly 122,000 through the first five months of 2000.
The Focus panel uses a soft-touch paint system, rather than relying on foam padding beneath the cover skin. The PP program extends throughout the panel, from knee bolsters to the heating and air-conditioning vents.
Increasing European requirements to improve the total amount of recyclable material in cars is adding to the push for a single material, Platz said, but it is not the only concern. Automakers are just as interested in a resin that performs well, offers weight savings and is cost-effective.
"It's serendipity when you put it all together and look at what (PP) offers," he said.