DETROIT — Nearly a year into the launch of the latest effort to promote greater use of plastics in automotive applications, a trade group behind the push says the plan is taking hold.
Plastics make up 50 percent of a typical vehicle these days, but account for only 10 percent of its weight.
With increased federal fuel mileage standards set to kick in during the coming years and up to 2025, the industry sees an opportunity to promote plastics and polymer composites even more as automakers look to lessen the weight of their vehicles as one approach to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions.
With that in mind, the Plastics division of the American Chemistry Council published its so-called “Roadmap' for the next 15 years or so to help promote use of plastics and polymer composites.
Reaction, said Matthew Marks, has been positive since the roadmap was first introduced last spring as those in the industry are offering support and referencing the document on many occasions. Marks is chair of ACC's Automotive Team.
The roadmap also is gaining the attention of other industries interested in creating a similar advocacy document to help promote their own interests, he said.
“It's become very popular,” Marks said, with lots of hits on the www.plastics-car.com website that's devoted to the roadmap.
While casually called the Roadmap, the document is officially known as the “Plastics and Polymer Composites Technology Roadmap for Automotive Markets” and aims to position the industry as the preferred materials supplier for the auto industry. The effort builds on an original roadmap published in 2001 and updated in 2009.
“By 2030,” the roadmap reads, “the automotive industry and society will recognize plastics and polymer composites as preferred material solutions that meet, and in many cases set, automotive performance and sustainability requirements.”
Marks, who is senior business manager, regulatory, for automotive and mass transportation at Sabic Innovative Plastics, was at the Plastics in Automotive conference organized by Plastics News to provide an update on the roadmap.
“What an exciting time it is to be in the plastics automotive business. The economy is recovering. Investments in technology are increasing. The use of plastics along with composites has doubled in the last 20 years and that number continues to grow.”
With Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards set to hit 54.5 mpg in 2025, plastics and polymer composite suppliers to the automotive industry have an opportunity to make further inroads.
“As you know, the automotive industry is under intense pressure to increase fuel economy and decrease greenhouse gas emissions,” Marks said.
Along with providing lighter-weight solutions to various automotive components compared with their metal counterparts, plastics also can satisfy consumer demands for style, safety and price, Marks said.
But while plastics can provide a lighter-weight solution, they are not always initially less expensive, he said. That's where lifecycle analysis, including fuel economy and the use of fewer parts, can help make an argument for change.
While the ACC published the roadmap, the trade group did so with contributions from stakeholders throughout the industry, Marks said.
That's important, because the whole industry must align behind the idea to create what he calls a cohesive voice and consistent messaging to promote the increased use of plastics in the years ahead.
The roadmap is a process of continual assessment and improvement with a push toward improving performance and cost. As problems are solved, others will arise, Marks said in his presentation.
“I ask not what ACC can do for you, but what you can do for this industry?” he said.