A typical lightweight vehicle can contain more than 1,000 plastic parts, and demand from the automotive industry is growing for plastics and polymer composites.
A new report by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has found that use of plastics and polymer composites has increased from an average of 20 pounds per car in 1960 to 329 pounds in today’s cars, minivans, pickups and SUVs.
What’s more, because of their favorable strength-to-weight ratio, the ACC estimates that these plastic materials comprise approximately 50 percent of a lightweight vehicle’s volume, but only about 8 percent of the vehicle’s weight.
Polymer composites are a combination of plastics and fibers (glass, carbon, aramid and others) that create an advanced composite matrix with attributes superior to plastics or fibers alone.
According to the ACC report, many analysts expect the use of lightweight plastics and polymer composites to increase significantly in the coming years as automakers seek to reduce vehicle weight to help meet federal fuel efficiency standards known as CAFE, or Corporate Average Fuel Economy.
Advanced, lighter materials don’t just contribute towards fuel efficiency. However, they can also enhance other vehicle functions, including acceleration, handling, braking and safety.
“Advances in plastics are making significant contributions to the fuel efficiency, safety and design of our cars and trucks,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for ACC. “And tough, lightweight plastics will help automakers further reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to meet 2025 CAFE requirements.”
Automotive plastic parts were produced at nearly 16,000 plants located in 45 states last year.