When a customer says he wants a part to be lighter, plastics component suppliers figure they've got a foot halfway in the door. But this story by Design News contributing editor Doug Smock notes that Ford Motor Co. is focusing on lighter weight metal -- not plastics -- in its efort to improve fuel economy on vehicles currently being designed. Smock interviewed Shawn Morgans, Ford's body structure technical leader, who said the carmaker's focus is on using thinner-gauge, high-strength steels.
“I don't know if you've noticed, but our head man is from the aircraft industry and he doesn't understand why our vehicles aren't lighter already,” said Morgans. He was referring to Alan Mulally, who became chief executive officer of Ford in 2006 after a 37-year career at Boeing, going from engineer to executive vice president. Mulally was involved in the game-changing decision to go to all-composite aircraft bodies at Boeing.But despite Mulally's experience at Boeing, Ford apparently isn't hooked on composites. Smock writes that Ford expects to use more high-strength composites in front-end applications, but has "no plans to introduce dramatic new plastic technologies such as carbon-fiber reinforced composites. They're too expensive right now, said Morgans. There are also technical problems with much-discussed efforts to make roofs out of polycarbonate. Scratch and weathering problems still have to be resolved, said Morgans." For another opinion on the future of polycarbonate windows and roofs, check the March 10 issue of Plastics News for a feature on Exatec LLC by our Detroit-based staff reporter Rhoda Miel.