Creating material breakthroughs is one thing, but to get the auto industry to do something with those materials, Sabic Innovative Plastics is taking its technology to its customers.
First, Sabic IP worked with General Motors Corp. to create a thermoplastic body system for the concept version of the Volt electric vehicle that debuted in January and held the potential to shave 60 pounds off of a car. (At that time, Sabic IP was known as GE Plastics, until Saudi Basic Industries Corp. bought the operation this year.)
Now Sabic is showing off the Qarmaq (pronounced ``car-mac''), a concept created with South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co. that can reduce weight by more than 130 pounds compared with traditional materials including steel and glass.
The concept car, introduced at the Geneva Auto Show in March and set to make its North American debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, also introduced designers to new possibilities with plastics that they could not achieve with steel panels, said Greg Adams, vice president and general manager for Sabic's automotive business unit.
``We spend a lot of time teaching people how to design with our resins,'' Adams said during an Oct. 10 briefing at Sabic IP's Southfield office. Sabic IP is based in Pittsfield, Mass.
With Hyundai's Qarmaq, GE and Sabic spent two years working alongside Hyundai's designers, helping them learn how to use resins and tweaking their own materials expertise to meet their requests, said Robert Nelson, Sabic's global automotive marketing director for structures, interiors and energy management.
On the Qarmaq, Sabic took the multisheet, low-pressure compression molded blend of its Xenoy iQ polycarbonate/polybutylene terephthalate - first shown on the Volt concept for a horizontal body panel - and boosted its aesthetic characteristics.
The car's design and materials also combine to create what the company calls an ``elastic front'' that will bounce and give way if the car hits a pedestrian, to comply with European and Asian pedestrian protection requirements.
Polycarbonate glazed using a technology developed by Sabic subsidiary Exatec LLC is used throughout the vehicle, except on the windshield.
One of the keys for designers, though, was learning how to use the plastic in fender modules, which allows designers to give a new shape to the car while integrating the headlights and other parts into the fender, Nelson said.
``It allows them to split out the front end and allow for new styling lines,'' he said.
While the Xenoy iQ resins, Exatec-glazed PC and other concepts shown on the Qarmaq are not on the market yet, the study gives designers more data about using those engineering resins as they create future projects.
``It's been a real fundamental change in the way we've done things in the past,'' Nelson said. ``We get in with the design studios now so that they can think about using the material up front in future programs.''
And now as part of Sabic, the former GE Plastics team has the potential for longer-term contacts with automakers. Sabic has polyolefin grades GE lacked, so as body panels shift from metal to engineering resins, Sabic will be there. As those resins transfer into less-expensive plastics, Sabic still will have a part to play, Adams said.
``We can now work with [automakers] through two product level cycles,'' Nelson said.
Washington staff reporter Mike Verespej contributed to this report.