How real are dreams of an electric vehicle future, and what do those dreams mean to plastics suppliers to the auto industry? That EV future may be inevitable if General Motors is right about its plan to end traditional vehicle production by 2035.
I was at the auto show in Detroit in 2007 when GM introduced what was then a concept car, the all-electric Volt sedan.
That car was as much a prototype test for plastics as it was for the electric drivetrain. Engineers from what was then GE Plastics — now part of Sabic — worked closely with GM on the Volt. Nearly every exterior part of the Volt was made with thermoplastics.
"[Plastics are] now part of their understanding of materials," a GE executive said at the time. "They've put it into their palette.''
When the Volt came out as an official GM offering a few years later, the thermoplastic outer body was gone as GM put its energy into the electric drivetrain, but plastics were still key.
The Volt's battery system had 135 individual prismatic cells, using 37 pounds of nylon, for just one example of the importance of plastics for one key vehicle. The number of cells in EVs has only increased since then.
So you can imagine what kind of role plastics will play for a GM that is going all in on EVs, with an announcement Jan. 28 that it would end gasoline-powered engine production by 2035. As Don Loepp notes, there is still a lot of traditional auto production that will be happening between now and 2035, but industry leaders believe a change is on the way.