Toyota Motor Corp. remains the leading automaker in moving toward sustainable plastics in vehicle interiors, but Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. have made significant improvements, according to a report on automotive plastics issued by the Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor, Mich., environmental advocacy organization.
The report, released Nov. 15, graded the eight largest vehicle makers in 19 areas with particular emphasis on the use of bio-based products, vehicle interior air quality and efforts to reduce the number of parts made from PVC.
Some 12 percent of vehicle weight and nearly 50 percent of car interiors are made from polymers, said the Ecology Center, citing a report in the August issue of Automotive Engineering International, a publication of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
The Ecology Center recommended automakers increase the use of bio-based products and phase out halogenated substances, such as PVC and brominated flame retardants, because of the gases they can emit and the difficulty in recycling them.
The report praised Toyota for developing a spare-tire cover and floor mats from sugar cane and corn-based plastics and its goal of having 15 percent of its resin parts made from renewable or recyclable materials by 2010. It also commended Ford for developing a soy-based foam for seating and for being the only automaker to have its vehicles certified to be allergen-free by an independent third party. Honda won praise for developing PVC-free materials for more than one dozen interior and exterior parts.
The report did not quantify volatile organic compound emission levels in vehicles, saying only that they are toxic and higher than in office settings.
Allen Blakey, public affairs director for the Vinyl Institute in Arlington, Va., disagreed. ``If they are a component at all, vinyl emissions are a very small component.
``Plastics and vinyl have been used safely and effectively for years,'' Blakey said. ``In 50 or more years of use, there has never been any evidence of harm from their use.'' Center officials are ``spending a lot of time spinning their wheels. This is a negligible issue and an unfortunate diversion.
``Bio-based products are fine if they work, but we have not seen them erode vinyl's market share when it comes to applications where automakers need durability and toughness,'' he added.