When Alan Mulally was named chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., we speculated that he might be able to use some of the tricks that worked at his former employer, Boeing Co., to turn around things at Ford. One of Boeing's big success stories is the new Dreamliner aircraft, which makes extensive use of plastic composites. The spacious, lightweight aircraft is more fuel efficient than its competitors, which seemed to us like just the type of advantage that Ford needed too. The Detroit Free Press has picked up on the story in today's issue, with a nice story headlined "One word for autos: Plastics." The story asks, can Mulally and others in the auto industry make similar gains with vehicles as Boeing did with the Dreamliner? The answer, as we all know, is yes.
At a time when foreign oil dependence is seen as both an economic and a national security issue, advocates say high-tech plastics can be used all the way down to the traditionally steel frame -- resulting in a family sedan that can average at least 60 miles per gallon. "It's like finding a Saudi Arabia under Detroit. That's a business opportunity. Whoever gets there first, whether it's American or the Asian automakers, is going to own the industry," said Amory Lovins, the head of an energy research center and designer of a car made of reinforced plastics.It might take action in Washington to really get things going, in the form of long-overdue stricter fuel economy regulations.