When DaimlerChrysler Corp. rolled out its newest Viper sports car at the North American International Auto Show Jan. 9, all the talk was about horsepower and speed.
But it wasn't just pure muscle that came up with an extra 90 horsepower for the Viper - boosting it to 600. By taking advantage of the sheet molded compound used for the Viper's hood, designers of the 2008 Viper were able to create a more aerodynamic flow and improve engine performance.
``We need to stay light and cost effective,'' said Herb Helbig, design powertrain engineer for the Chrysler Group's SRT team, which oversees the Viper and other performance cars for the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker.
The newest Viper retains the SMC and reaction injection molded body panels of past sports cars and continues the use of carbon fiber for structural parts, including the front fender supports.
But it's the hood - molded by Meridian Automotive Systems Inc. - that provides the most dramatic difference. Chrysler designed a 4-inch rise at the center, and openings along either side to help circulate the air better within the engine compartment.
The center hood scoop improves air induction, while the louvers help with a better cooling effect for the engine, engineers said.
The revised Viper can go from zero to 60 mph in less than four seconds - 3.7 seconds on a good day, Helbig said.
Composites are showing up on cars and trucks throughout the show and on a variety of cars already in production, even if they don't make headlines, said Keith Bihary, automotive sales manager for Molded Fiber Glass Cos. and chairman of the Automotive Composites Alliance in Detroit.
``There is quite a bit of composites used out there, especially when the weight of the vehicle is a concern,'' he said.
MFG, based in Ashtabula, Ohio, molded the composite panels on the first Corvette, and is still making composite structural parts on the newest Corvettes, now using carbon fiber.
Michigan companies Meridian of Allen Park and Continental Structural Plastics of Troy are turning out thermoset composite boxes for thousands of trucks sold annually for both U.S. and Japanese automakers.
And the auto industry isn't just adapting to SMC, RIM and other thermoset standbys. General Motors Corp., which is eliminating thermoplastic body panels from its Saturn cars, is using GE Platics' Noryl GTX resin for the fender on its Hummer sport utility vehicle.
``We're continuing to find places in all the market segments,'' said Gary Landsettle, a former ACA chairman and North American commercial director for Ashland Chemical Co.'s composite polymers business unit, based in Dublin, Ohio.
``They're seeing how composites can translate into lower-volume vehicles, change design and improve weight,'' Landsettle said.