Plastics in Automotive Markets: Vision and Technology Roadmap

The automotive industry is on the brink of a revolution, and the plastics industry is poised to play a major role...
American Plastics Council

(Sponsored by the American Plastics Council)

The automotive industry is on the brink of a revolution, and the plastics industry is poised to play a major role. In North America and globally, new technology and partnerships are enabling improvements in safety, breakthroughs in comfort and savings in energy efficiency.

Helping drive this revolution is the innovative use of plastics and plastic composites. The automotive plastics industry is ready to accelerate the development of innovative products, deliver superior value to customers and help the automotive industry set new standards in design, safety, and environmental performance.

In the last 25 years, the integration of plastics has been key to the automotive industry’s ability to design high-performance vehicles with improved safety features and fuel economy. Lightweight plastics allow automotive designers and engineers the freedom to deliver innovative concepts cost effectively.

From an aesthetic perspective, plastics and plastic composites offer the automotive designer distinct advantages in many applications. Plastics provide lightweight, versatile designs in electrical, electronic, and lighting applications, further enhancing new styling opportunities. Versatility is core to plastics’ beauty, allowing for efficient design changes in either single piece or modular components, reducing parts manufacturing costs and enhancing vehicle affordability.

The unique properties and design flexibility of plastics and plastic composites can help improve safety features for both drivers and passengers.

Did you know that plastics are enabling materials that contribute to a multitude of safety devices found in today?s cars and trucks? Lighter weight plastics and polymer composites allow for roof designs with a lower center of gravity for the vehicle, helping to reduce the likelihood of a rollover. Plastics and polymer composites also are used for their strength and energy absorption properties in vehicle crumple-zones, which can lower costs and help save lives. With effective designs, plastics and plastic composites have the potential to provide 360-degree impact protection. Additionally, front and side airbags, head curtains, bumper systems, and anti-lock brakes are all devices that depend on plastics. To meet ever-increasing safety ideals, plastics will grow to become the primary material used in automotive engineering, helping to provide both driver and passenger safety.

As the use of plastics in vehicle manufacturing and safety features increases, lightweighting design techniques-the integration of plastics and
polymers into vehicle design where other materials have been used traditionally-can benefit performance and environmental sustainability as well.

The positive response of the automotive and plastics industries to environmental challenges can contribute to an increased quality of life and improved standard of living throughout the world. Lightweight plastic parts and aerodynamic designs, made possible through plastics, have already contributed significantly to increased fuel efficiency.

Case in point: Based on a national laboratory study a ten percent reduction in vehicle weight translates to a 5% increase in miles per gallon. At an annual build of 15 million passenger vehicles per year this equates to a sizable savings in gasoline and the accompanying emissions..

With plastics increasingly becoming the material of choice for manufacturers, the cars of tomorrow can be lighter, cleaner and more fuel-efficient. Already, plastics and composites are being used in new propulsion technologies that surpass conventional internal combustion engines in energy efficiency,
and for hydrogen fuel cells that hold the promise of providing energy without the pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions created by conventional combustion.

Across the industry spectrum, plastics are replacing conventional materials because they provide the versatility that designers seek, deliver the functionality that engineers demand, and help contribute to the safety and environmental value that consumers expect.

There is a continuing need to increase the knowledge of plastics within the automotive community. Greater knowledge begins in the classroom and extends throughout the research, engineering and design communities within the automotive and plastics industries. To foster this education, the American Plastics Council?s Automotive Learning Center in Troy, Michigan, is working to help educate the designers, engineers and business decision makers who will â€drive†the auto industry in the 21st century.

Plastics: A World of Unlimited Opportunities The American Plastics Council advocates unlimited opportunities for plastics and promotes their economic, environmental and societal benefits. Plastics Make It Possible.

If you would like to learn more about the role of plastics and plastic composites in the future of automotive manufacturing and recycling, or to request the complete Plastics in Automotive Markets Vision and Technology Roadmap, visit or call 800-2HELP90 (800-243-5790).