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Will the Government Mandate Plastic Cars?

Posted in auto industry, Car Tech, Design, Fuel-efficient, Materials, Newsworthy, Oil Industry, Politics, Saturn, Science by Alex Kierstein | September 17th, 2009 | Leave a Reply |


The House has passed a bill, the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act of 2009, that might just lead to future new cars being made out of plastic. It still has to go through the Senate, but are we contemplating a future where we’re all driving polycarbonate cares with panel gaps larger than the federal deficit? Possibly … the bill calls for nearly $550 million per year in research into fuel-efficient cars and trucks that reduce dependence on petroleum. One of the funded projects is to have the Department of Energy demonstrate the production of “cost-effective lightweight materials such as advanced metal alloys, polymeric composites, and carbon fiber;” that is, plastics. Is the government going to require that your next Ford be an oversized Power Wheels car? More after the jump.

Now that you’ve made the jump, let’s all take off our tin-foil hats and take a step back. We reported just a few days ago that the US is a world leader in advanced lightweight steel components, so don’t fret about flimsy plastic unibodies – we’re likely to stick with mainstream metal frames for a long, long time. Body panels and interior materials are another thing: lots of cars throughout history have tried to use composite or plastic panels, Saturn being the most recent and directly applicable one. While those were known for huge panel gaps and thermal expansion woes, the idea is fundamentally sound: hanging nonstructural body panels onto a steel frame is old hat. It’s also lightweight, and the plastics can now be made from renewable sources like soybeans. Hopefully with some research dollars American petrochemical companies (who, by the way, welcome the use of “lightweight plastic and composite intensive vehicles” as it’ll boost their bottom line) can come up with something better than the flimsy polycarbonate pieces on the old Saturns. The result should be weight savings, less environmental impact, and greater fuel economy. What’s not to like? Bring on the Power Wheels!

Press Release:

Research and Development to Spur Innovation, Increase Energy Efficiency through Plastic and Composite Materials

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act of 2009. American Chemistry Council President and CEO Cal Dooley issued the following statement:

“The American Chemistry Council (ACC) praises the U.S. House of Representatives for passing H.R. 3246, the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act of 2009. This important legislation will create a comprehensive research and development program to spur innovation in the design of fuel efficient vehicles and components.”

“Consumers are continuing to seek new ways to reduce their energy consumption, in particular, through more energy efficient vehicles. ACC member companies are working with their automotive manufacturing partners to create innovative vehicle components that reduce weight, lower emissions and increase fuel efficiency without compromising passenger safety.”

“The chemical industry is a significant supplier to the automotive industry, providing the products that make possible valued features like state of the art air bags, strong polycarbonate bumpers, and comfortable polyurethane seat cushions. New innovations in plastic and composite materials are making vehicles lighter and reducing energy consumption while maintaining passenger safety. The versatile characteristics of plastics and composites — including strength to weight ratio, energy absorption and flexible design — make these materials ideal for use in automobile design. The Department of Energy will have an opportunity to collaborate with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has been examining the safety aspects of lightweight plastic and composite intensive vehicles over the last four years.”

“We applaud the bipartisan leadership of Representatives Gary Peters (MI) and Judy Biggert (IL) and the House Science and Technology Committee on this legislation. We look forward to working with the Senate to ensure this legislation is considered in a timely fashion.”


The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products and services that make people’s lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health and safety performance through Responsible Care(R), common sense advocacy designed to address major public policy issues, and health and environmental research and product testing. The business of chemistry is a $689 billion enterprise and a key element of the nation’s economy. It is one of the nation’s largest exporters, accounting for ten cents out of every dollar in U.S. exports. Chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development. Safety and security have always been primary concerns of ACC members, and they have intensified their efforts, working closely with government agencies to improve security and to defend against any threat to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

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