With the cost of oil rising and more people wanting vehicles that are environmentally friendly and easy on gas costs, the automobile industry is doing much more than just expanding hybrid and electric processes. In fact, one of the ways that they are making cars lighter and better on fuel is to decrease the overall weight of the car through the use of materials that are made from plastics.
The push to decrease the weight of cars and improve fuel economy is being driven by the 2025 federal mandate that cars need to go 45 miles on a single gallon of gas. That requirement means that automotive engineers are looking to plastics in order to lighten the load.
Many of the new cars – including a prototype of a Ford Fusion that was developed with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Energy – had an overall decrease in weight by more than 800 pounds because of replacing traditional steel parts with plastics. Some of the areas that can be replaced are:
• Instrument panels. Once made from heavy gauge steel, the newest instrument panels are now made from a combination of carbon fiber and a new nylon composite.
• Rear windows. Usually, these windows are made from heavy, safety glass. The lighter models are now made from the same scratch and breakage resistant plastic that is used for cell phone screens.
• Wheels. Traditional metal wheels carry a lot of weight on a car. New, carbon fiber models mean a significant decrease in the amount of weight added.
While many of these ideas will shape car design for years to come, they won’t happen all at once as cost can be an issue. Certain parts can be prohibitively expensive to add to a vehicle, no matter the savings in gas and weight. Though a wholesale transition to plastic-based parts will not happen, car buyers will see many of these lightweight parts added to their cars as soon as the next three to five years.
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