Bernard I. Robertson's first exposure to the U.S. automotive market came in the early 1970s, when he arrived in North America along with the English-made subcompact, the Plymouth Cricket.
It was not an auspicious start: The Cricket had nylon bushings that broke down in cold weather, an instrument panel that sagged in hot weather and leached so many plasticizers that the company considered putting the windshield wipers on the inside, he quipped.
But Robertson's influence and his company's capabilities in plastics both have improved, with Robertson winning the Society of Plastics Engineers' Automotive Division's lifetime leadership achievement award, while DaimlerChrysler AG vehicles accounted for five of the six achievement awards from the group - including the grand prize winner.
``We've all seen some pretty remarkable periods, and we've learned along the way,'' Robertson, senior vice president of engineering technologies and regulatory affairs for DaimlerChrysler, said during the Nov. 18 awards ceremony in Livonia.
The poor performance of the bushings - used as an attachment on the accelerator pedal assembly on the short-lived Cricket - led to a service bulletin recommending drivers remove their bushings and place them in boiling water for several minutes, he said.
The Cricket's replacement, a Mitsubishi Motors Corp. car re-badged as the Dodge Colt, performed far better, but had a resin base that gave off a specific odor.
``People would get in and say, `Great car,' '' Robertson recalled. ``Then they'd ask if there was a fish market in the area.''
But the industry as a whole has vastly improved, Robertson said.
There are plastic air-intake manifolds, seamless passenger- side air-bag doors for instrument panels, co-extruded plastic fuel tanks, which continually improve to meet increasing emissions standards, and even the seemingly simple living hinges molded into storage bins.
With DaimlerChrysler, Robertson even has helped oversee research into injection molded car bodies through the company's CCV and ESX concept cars.
``This business is constantly changing, and you will be in the forefront of those changes,'' he told SPE members.
DaimlerChrysler, which has corporate offices in Auburn Hills, Mich., and Stuttgart, Germany, and its development partners won both the grand prize and an award for process/enabling technology for the ionomer-based paint replacement system now in production for bumper fascias on the Dodge Neon.
The multilayer technology holds the prospect of ridding the expensive and environmentally difficult paint shops from automotive assembly plants in place of a color layer added in the mold to plastic body panels.
DaimlerChrysler molds its own bumpers at its Neon assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill. It worked with material suppliers A. Schulman Inc. and ExxonMobil Chemical Co., processors Mayco Plastics Inc. and toolmaker Build-A-Mold Ltd.
The carbon-fiber sheet molded compound system used on the 2003 Dodge Viper took home awards in both the materials and chassis/ hardware/assembly categories. The SMC blend, developed by Quantum Composites Inc. and molded by Meridian Automotive Systems, is used in three different structural applications in the car.
A specially blended hybrid used in the door hinge won the materials category for its ability to link the carbon fiber and a glass-fiber SMC. The carbon-fiber SMC used in the fender support system won for its replacement of metal in a structural component that consolidated 15-20 different brackets and saved 40 pounds on the sports car.
A blow molded speaker pod assembly for the 2003 DaimlerChrysler Jeep Wrangler took honors for body interior parts.
The system houses overhead speakers, Textron Inc.'s Kautex unit blow molding water-resistant units that replaced a steel and foam housing at a 54 percent cost savings and 35 percent weight savings. Spartech Polycom Inc. supplies the glass-filled polypropylene and Radiance Mold & Engineering was the toolmaker.
A thermoformed rocker molding, produced with a dry film in-mold paint replacement on General Motors Corp.'s midsize sport utility vehicles won for body exteriors.
The decorative trim is matched to the painted body with a Class A finish, taking advantage of an estimated 10-15 percent cost savings in tooling available for thermoforming. Carlisle Engineered Products Inc. and Stack Pac Inc. process the components for ASC Inc. and GM with materials supplied by Soliant LLC and Equistar Chemicals LP.
The division honored GM with two Hall of Fame awards, one for the wiper system transmission housing first used on the 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Classic and another for a wed latch and door lock actuator that bowed on the 1991 Buick Park Avenue and Pontiac Bonneville.
SPE also awarded a special recognition trophy for GM's Corvette sports car, the first mass-produced vehicle with an SMC body. The car first hit the market in 1953, and is entering its 50th anniversary year.
Volkswagen AG also received special notice for its pioneering use of acrylic on taillights dating from the 1940s.