Part of the SRT Dodge Viper's roof line dips down into the rear window glass.
It might look like a quirk of design to set the sports car apart from its competitors. Instead, it's one small example of how an engineering team from Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler Group LLC and a handful of suppliers worked together to create a new way to integrate electronics into the car — and also shows why the car won the Vehicle Engineering Team Award from the Society of Plastics Engineers.
The award was one of two announced Oct. 29 in advance of the SPE Automotive Division's annual Automotive Innovation Awards Gala set for Nov. 7 in Livonia, Mich.
In addition to the VETA team award, SPE selected the 1974 Oldsmobile Toronado and its industry-first driver and passenger airbags as the Hall of Fame winner, which honors an auto plastics product that has been in production for at least 15 years.
Although General Motors Corp. had tested airbags at least a year earlier, the Toronado was the first vehicle available to the public with optional airbags, then called the “air-cushion restraint system.”
Detroit-based GM expanded the optional air bags to some Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac sedans later in 1974.
Overall, the Viper provided a breakthrough for increased use of carbon fiber and other composites and thermoplastics as it reduced its overall weight by 100 pounds for the 2013 model year, compared with the previous 2010 Viper, SPE officials noted in an Oct. 29 press release.
The carbon-fiber body panels have received the most attention so far. They are made by Plasan Carbon Composites in Bennington, Vt., and along with reaction injection molded fender systems, composites make up more than 50 percent of the exterior skin. Carbon fiber is used in the hood, roof and lift gate.
In addition to Plasan, other suppliers of materials for the body panels are Toray Carbon Fibers Inc. of Decatur, Ala.; Umeco plc, part of Cytec Industries Inc. of Woodland Park, N.J.; Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Mich.; and Ashland Inc. of Dublin, Ohio.
The thermoplastic dip into the glass on the lift gate was developed by the engineering teams at Chrysler and suppliers Plasan, Dow, Ashland, A.P. Plasman Corp. of Windsor, Ontario, and Legna Inc. of Warren, Mich., as a new way to position the antenna required for satellite navigation and radio systems.
Since satellite systems became standard options, carmakers have had to find ways to place them on the vehicle exterior without affecting the overall design. That effort has led to black boxes on the roof, antennas disguised in trim to mimic an aerodynamic fin or color-coordinated bumps just above the rear window.
Viper engineers wanted to avoid those familiar tricks and coordinated with its suppliers on the thin “widow's peak” design on the lift gate. It is housed in an injection molded polycarbonate/ ABS and bonded to a carbon-fiber inner panel.
Other plastic features found on the Viper include:
* An SMC windshield frame using glass and carbon-fiber reinforcement supplied by Quantum Composites Inc. of Bay City, Mich.
* Thermoplastic bumper beams made of a PC/polybutylene terephthalate supplied by Sabic Innovative Plastics of Pittsfield, Mass., and molded by NetShape International LLC of Grand Haven, Mich. The bumpers also have a fascia supplied by Romeo RIM Inc. of Romeo, Mich. Romeo RIM also makes the reinforced reaction injection molded polyurethane rear quarter panels and rear appliqué using PU supplied by Pittsburgh-based Bayer MaterialScience LLC.
* A composite trunk pan and rear-end system made by Magna International Inc. of Aurora, Ontario, using an SMC blend from Ashland. The system comprises two composite parts, replacing 15 metal ones on a previous design.
* Novation SpA of Montebelluna, Italy, used a resin transfer molded vinyl ester resin supplied by Novia with a glass-, carbon- and aramid-fiber reinforcement for a seat structure that replaces the previous metal structure, saving 3 pounds per seat. Sabelt SpA is an assembly supplier for the project.
* A thin film transistor overlay is used to create a unique multilayered display for the instrument cluster. Magnetti Marelli SpA of Corbetta, Italy, is the supplier.
* Milan, Italy-based Sogefi SpA injection molds a glass-reinforced polyamide 6 resin from BASF Corp. of Florham Park, N.J., on the Viper's first composite air-intake manifold, replacing an aluminum manifold.
* An optional exposed-weave, carbon-fiber X-brace over the engine provides torsional stiffness for improved handling. Plasan molds the brace using Toray resin. Other trim components are available in exposed carbon fiber.
Gary Lownsdale, chief technology officer at Plasan Carbon Composites, will talk about the Viper and its carbon-fiber panels at Plastics News' Plastics in Lightweight Vehicles 2012 conference Nov. 6-7 in Livonia, Mich. (www.plastics news.com/plv2012).