Plastic fuel system suppliers are working with automakers and the Society of Automotive Engineers to standardize emissions testing - hoping the move will lower pre-production costs and speed development time.
``We believe the industry will benefit from an industry standard,'' said James Kolb, vice president-automotive for the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va.
APC and resin suppliers launched a task force in late 2001 to assure automakers that multilayer thermoplastic tanks would meet stricter emissions requirements, Kolb said in an Aug. 4 interview at the auto industry's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.
Tank makers soon joined the task force, which addressed technical issues rather than marketing, he said.
Steel tank makers - led by the American Iron and Steel Institute - for years have claimed that plastic systems could not meet higher standards, although the units have continued to prove themselves, he said.
APC, with its Troy, Mich.-based Automotive Learning Center, wanted to coordinate an effort to combat that view, Kolb said.
The biggest concern plastics molders and suppliers saw was the lack of a common testing standard among North America's domestic automakers.
For example, one automaker's tests for shake and fatigue require a variety of fill levels in the tank, while another's requires that the tanks are 75 percent full. One called for eight hours in the test, another 20 hours. As a result, Kolb said, molders had to run multiple tests under many conditions for each customer.
``Eventually, whether the [automakers] know it or not, they end up paying for those costs,'' said Don Little, director of business management systems and issue management for Dow Automotive in Auburn Hills, Mich.
SAE accepted the task force's recommendations in November and the group presented its proposed standards to Big Three carmakers in June.
The group is waiting now to hear back from automakers with hopes to fine-tune the proposals to a level everyone can live with. SAE still must give final accreditation, but standards conceivably could be approved by the end of 2005, Kolb said.
There is no guarantee they will make it through the process. There was another proposed emissions test criteria years ago, but it never was approved.
APC members hope the cooperative approach can work in other industries as well, Little said. If competitors can ease development requirements on pre-competitive, standard elements, they can spend more money on product differentiation.
``There are so many of these issues that are so large, it makes sense to address them together,'' he said.