SHANGHAI (May 23, 10 p.m. ET) — In the past few years, China's automakers have thrown themselves into the development of electronic vehicles. According to Du Cao, the vice president and director of Chang'an Automobile Group's Global R&D Center, their interest in alternative energy vehicles is driving demand for new plastic applications in the country's automotive market.
“[In China] we've set a very high standard for environmental protection,” said Cao. “Everyone is working on hybrid and new-energy vehicles; all the car manufacturers are researching this.”
Cao was speaking during the China Plastics in Automotive conference, sponsored by Plastics News, in Shanghai.
The push for electronic vehicles is not motivated by environmental protection alone, said Cao. China is also concerned with reducing fuel consumption to reduce its dependence on imported oil. “Reliance on foreign countries is quite high in terms of energy supply,” said Cao. “So new energy is going to be the future trend.”
China has set a target to reduce fuel consumption to 4.5 liters per 100 kilometers by the year 2020. To do this, automakers must work on alternative energy sources and reducing vehicle weight. According to Cao, weight has become the most significant issue for carmakers in China. In hybrid vehicles, for example, weight needs to be reduced by 30 or 40%. At the same time, the addition of batteries to the vehicle will add weight, increasing the need to reduce weight in other parts of the vehicle.
“There are many channels of achieving lightweighting of the vehicle; we can improve the structure and, sometimes, we can use new materials.” With plastics and composites, structural components can be replaced with lighter materials. Metal door panels, front end modules and oil tanks can all be replaced by plastics. At Chang'an, Cao said, the company is aiming to integrate parts that are currently manufactured separately—a money-saving process that can also be aided by plastics. “We aim to integrate more than 10 of the parts into one simple platform,” he said.
As electric and hybrid vehicles become increasingly popular, Cao expects to see more uses for plastics in vehicles. Chang'an, he said, hopes to be a leader in developing new uses for plastics in vehicles that are both energy efficient and cost-effective. “