Automakers increasingly recognize plastics as both a preferred design material and a way to improve car performance and sustainability. OEMs are focusing on innovative styling, increased fuel economy and lower vehicle weight to get more competitive.
“About 10 percent of weight reduction improves mileage by about 6 percent,” said Shekar Viswanathan, deputy managing director for commercial operations at Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd. of Bangalore, India.
Viswanathan spoke at the recent Automotive Plastics India show in Mumbai about the future of various resins.
“Besides weight reduction, plastics also helps in streamlining vehicle shape,” he said. Over the years, Toyota has replaced metal with plastic components for many applications in its vehicles. For example, in Toyota's popular Innova, a compact multipurpose vehicle, plastics are used in instrument-panel components, seats, front-end modules, inner door panels, body panels, bumpers and many other parts.
Toyota also has taken interesting green initiatives. It's developing pre-colored resins to avoid after-molding painting and related operations such as paint emissions control, de-dusting and curing. Toyota is testing some bioplastics in various models and if the results are encouraging and cost-effective, they will be used in all Toyota models, according to Viswanathan.
Toyota's hybrid Prius is eco-friendly in many ways. The carmaker has gone beyond the powertrain by using bioplastics made from corn, sugarcane or kenaf in the Prius interior. “Prius uses the eco-plastic in several interior components like door trim, seat cushions and scuff boards,” Vishwanathan said.
Bioplastics also are used in the interiors of the Lexus HS 250 hybrid.
“Bioplastics realize 20 percent less total CO2 over the life of the car,” Vishwanathan said.
“With the increasing size and competition of the Indian automobile market, OEMs are looking at innovative ways to replace steel with plastics,” he added.