With the rise of electric vehicles, new technologies, and tougher fuel standards, the automotive industry is booming these days, and so is the plastics industry. With manufacturers looking to make lighter, less expensive components, while also installing new electronics and their housings, there have been numerous innovations involving plastic automotive parts and designs in 2020, and there are even more on the horizon.
Here are four major trends automotive OEMs should keep an eye on:
1. LIGHTWEIGHTING FOR FUEL EFFICIENCY
Despite proposals to freeze Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and suspend the scheduled increase from its current rate of 37 miles per gallon to 51 miles per gallon by 2025, manufacturers still see improved fuel efficiency as a significant selling point among consumers. Lightweighting with automotive plastic parts is a major factor in deploying that strategy.
Even if the CAFE standards aren’t upheld, there’s nothing to indicate that the standards won’t be imposed again in the future, merely delaying rather than eliminating the need for compliance. Taking the current proposal into consideration, the average vehicle would likely need to reduce its load by about 400 lbs. (or 10% of its weight) in order to have a chance at meeting recommended EPA emission standards.
With today’s plastic composite formulations, automotive OEMs can significantly reduce the weight of vehicles without compromising performance or safety, while also using it to improve aesthetics and aerodynamics.
2. LOWER COST OF CARBON FIBER
Due to carbon fiber’s high cost in the past, it was typically reserved for luxury and custom vehicles. But today, because some companies offer carbon fiber composites that are considerably cheaper than before, more manufacturers are expected to take advantage of this lightweight material. In addition to its weight reduction properties, a major advantage of a carbon fiber composite is its superior strength compared with steel.
Not only is it stronger, it’s also more adaptable. Its molding characteristics allow it to be cast into different shapes, sizes and contours to improve both visual appeal, functionality, and aerodynamic properties. Such versatility is critical in automotive applications as product designers look for ways to make their models stand out from the competition.
While more and more features are added to vehicles in an effort to appeal to consumers, those vehicles aren’t necessarily getting comparatively bigger. That means all those added features need to fit into already tight compartments, cabins, and dashboards. More time might need to be dedicated to R&D for carbon fiber-reinforced automotive parts, but it can be a differentiator that pays off big time in the long run.
3. A FOCUS ON COMFORT
While fuel efficiency and performance specs will always be important to consumers, lately, more buyers care less about a car’s performance, and more about its comfort. Ride handling, interior features, and other amenities are highly sought after by buyers. This may be a result of the fact that average commute times continue to hit record highs. As drivers spend more time behind the wheel, they’re looking to make that time more enjoyable and productive.
Once reserved for luxury-branded vehicles, many mid-market automotive brands are going beyond standard features and providing options to improve the driving experience, and durable plastics make it possible. Attention to improved ergonomics, interior finishes, convenience features, entertainment systems, smart technology, driver assist, minimal vibration and reduced cabin noise are all target areas for automotive OEMs who want to appeal to discerning consumers. Molded, high-performance plastic parts play a critical role in achieving each of these goals.
4. PART CONSOLIDATION
As today’s parts and vehicle designs become more complex, it’s crucial that companies can rely on suppliers that know their specific needs and designs. There’s a significant advantage to having multiple parts sourced from the same supplier: by doing so, automotive OEMs can start to streamline the manufacturing operations and processes associated with their supply chain, cut costs, and quickly identify and mitigate any hold ups or problems with the design.
Likewise, when it comes to consolidation, plastics have given today’s automotive manufacturers the ability to consolidate several individual parts into one complete design. Consider how this can streamline materials handling, inventory control, and offer valuable time savings during assembly, while also typically reducing weight and lowering overall costs.
With plastic injection molding playing a key role in helping create today’s lightweight, fuel efficient vehicles, it’s crucial that auto manufacturers partner with an injection molder who has expertise in complex automotive parts and understands the latest industry regulations and standards. They can help implement the latest trends, while also improving part quality, optimizing the molding process, and reducing production time and costs.
To learn more about how partnering with an experienced injection molder can help you with your design, engineering and materials challenges, read our case studies, Automotive Injection Molding Part Histories: 3 Proven Solutions to Complex Industry Challenges.