At one of the most important automotive industry events, the plastics industry continually takes a back seat to a competitor: the metal benders.
The American Iron & Steel Institute is a regular attendee at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars each year, as are representatives from the plastics industry.
The plastics people typically are resin suppliers, molders, and representatives from the American Chemistry Council including the head of the ACC's Automotive Learning Center in Troy, Mich.
In the past, the American Plastics Council had news releases, a trade booth and other outreach efforts at the event. But typically plastics officials have not been as visible or organized as the Iron & Steel Institute.
The Iron & Steel group has put out news releases over the years claiming that steel was making a comeback in fuel tanks (which has not happened, as plastics continued to build market share).
Iron & Steel also has highlighted its push to use more high-strength steel in lightweight cars.
At this year's event, held Aug. 4-7 in Traverse City, Mich., the institute had a news release touting a life-cycle assessment on iron and steel use in today's cars.
The release plays up the performance of steel compared to aluminum and sheet molding compound, based on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint.
That continual presence and regular news releases in the media room each year makes the steel group far more visible than the plastics industry in a room full of reporters.
The Iron & Steel guys even have identical golf shirt uniforms, at the event, which makes them easy to spot and adds to the impression that they're atending the seminars in force.
Plastics officials may also be present, but they aren't nearly as noted by the reporters representing trade and national magazines and newspapers who pack the conference.
Also largely missing the plastics reps are top executives from global automakers and suppliers, who went to Traverse City this year to get the latest news from federal officials about bailouts, bankruptcy and cash-for-clunkers and to hear the first North American speech by Toyota Motor Corp.'s new president, Akio Toyoda.
The plastics industry has a great story for the auto industry too. It can tout sustainability benefits, recyclability, and, best of all, weight savings.
We hate to sound like we're coming down on the plastics industry representatives who do go to the Management Briefing Seminars. DuPont Co., for example, has an annual media dinner that is popular with those who attend, and the company makes its executives available for interviews.
But as an industry, plastics are fairly quiet.
With the federal government finally setting aggressive fuel economy goals, plastics have an opportunity to move rapidly into applications like door panels and windows.
Sure, the plastics folks know that, and so do the auto executives. But it wouldn't hurt to remind them.
Let's not drop the ball next year.
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