Automakers know the clock is ticking toward a 2020 deadline to boost fuel economy performance by 10 miles per gallon or more, and they will be looking at a variety of solutions as time ticks down.
We have a plan in place with goals for the near-term, the medium-term and long-term strategies building up to 2020, said Nand Kochhar, chief engineer for global materials engineering and standards for Ford Motor Co. These involve a variety of weight reductions, new technologies and new materials, Kochhar said during a panel discussion at the Society of Plastics Engineers 2009 Automotive TPO Conference, held Oct. 5-7 in Sterling Heights.
While thermoplastic polyolefin molders and resin suppliers may be anxious to cash in on the weight-reduction angle of carmakers' plans, there is no guarantee that TPO will turn up on more body panels.
TPO makers need to improve the material's temperature stability in extreme hot and cold environments so the industry can use it next to steel or aluminum parts without gaps between body panels, said Matt Carroll, engineering group manager of materials for body exterior, electrical and batteries at Detroit-based General Motors Corp.
When it comes to body panels, TPOs likely would be fifth on the list for material options, behind thermoset composites, lightweight steel, aluminum and magnesium, said Jeff Makarewicz, vice president of the materials engineering division at Toyota Motor Corp.'s technical center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Instead, the next big growth for TPOs and polyolefins may be in spots where the consumers may not even see them - beneath the car, Carroll said.
Underbody panels, which may cover just a part of the chassis or stretch the length of the vehicle, can improve fuel performance by reducing air drag, according to GM's Carroll. Aerodynamics also plays into designs that integrate mud flaps and air dams, mounted beneath the front bumper fascia, he said.
GM is looking at a variety of under-the-body parts to reduce drag and improve performance, Carroll said.
We have to look at the entire vehicle here and use a number of approaches, Makarewicz added.
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