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APC maps plastics path in automotive

TROY, MI - Proclaiming that "plastics- and composites-intensive vehicles are the future of sustainable transportation", Michael Fisher called for stakeholders in the materials, processing, and automotive businesses to lay a roadmap for greater adoption of polymers in vehicles. Speaking at the at the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE; Brookfield, CT) recent Automotive Composites Conference (Sept. 10-12, Troy, MI), Fisher, who is the senior director of technology at the American Plastics Council (APC; Arlington, VA) exhorted the audience to offer input to the APC''s new Plastics In Automotive roadmap, updating the last edition, which was published in January 2002, based on data gathered in 2001.

"Anything five years old in this rapidly changing world, needs to be updated for currency," Fisher said in an interview with MPW, adding feedback from a more exhaustive demographic is preferred. "We see advantages to having a broader cross section of input."

Fisher said the APC has maintained an automotive group in one form or another going back to 1991, and in 2000, working in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), it created an automotive roadmap with input from a cross section of groups, including government agencies, suppliers, OEMs, and universities, which addressed what challenges plastics faced in vehicles.

"We need to get people to think bigger," Fisher said, "and talk about significantly enhanced usage of plastics. The greatest roadblock is 100 years of comfort using steel and metals."

In June 2004, the National Science Foundation (NSF), DOE, and the APC sponsored a workshop for six university projects that aim to augment predictive software for composites, potentially removing a key obstacle in composites'' adoption since automotive OEMs now turn to simulations instead of physical prototypes to test for safety.

In November 2005, following the U.S. Congress''s call for the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration to take a closer look at plastics in cars, the agency hosted a workshop with 40 different groups where 65 challenges to vehicles were identified that polymers could offer a solution for.

Fisher said the APC would formerly begin the creation of a new roadmap in 2007, with a final product in 2008. Challenges definitely remain, especially at the intersection of safety and fuel economy, where plastics are normally caught. Calling automotive safety "a political hot potato for more than three decades," Fisher said fear of potential liability and heavy-handed regulation, has led automotive OEMs to adopt an "aggressive, almost irrational use of safety when discussing CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards." Still, Fisher said the government would have to be involved in any solution, since he feels the problem is too large for any one company or even industry.

"Washington must be part of our business strategy," Fisher said. - Tony Deligio; [email protected]

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