Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards coupled with heightened consumer sensitivities to the environmental impact of using fossil fuels are tightening fuel consumption requirements for the auto industry.
Worldwide, sales of electric vehicles rose by 73% in 2018 — a banner year by any measurement, but all the more remarkable given it followed sales growth of 86% in 2017. The sales figures are more than impressive; they reflect a shift in consumer demand for affordable, eco-friendly transportation options and the bellwether of change in the automotive industry.
When engineering-grade resins were introduced in the 1950s, some auto manufacturers were unfamiliar with the benefits of metal-to-plastic conversion, i.e. how to design plastics into products, and how to manufacture with plastics. Today this practice, also known as “lightweighting,” is becoming increasingly popular with automakers as they race to comply with a federal mandate calling for automobiles to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
In 2012, President Obama finalized standards to increase fuel efficiency in cars and light-duty trucks to nearly 55 mpg by model year 2025, with the aim of saving Americans more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reducing U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.
While there are several ways to meet this mandate, reducing the car’s weight is one of the best – and easiest – ways to improve fuel economy without impacting other design and safety factors. That's why many automakers are rethinking production and using custom injection molded plastic components instead of metal assemblies.
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 2017, and there are even more on the horizon.
Plastic automotive components can be susceptible to rework, rejection and budget-breaking increases in total cost of production if the parts used contain molding defects. Often these defects evidence themselves during end product review — when it could be too late for a remedy.
The automotive industry is experiencing rapid advancements, some of which have been brought about by federal regulations and others as a result of manufacturers leveraging opportunities presented by new materials and technologies.
The overall safety and performance of a vehicle is dependent, in part, on the plastic components used throughout the vehicle. Many people think that when it comes to cars, plastic parts are features like the dashboard, seats and floor mats. But thermoplastic polymers are used in much more critical places throughout a vehicle, many of them under the hood in the car’s powertrain and fuel systems.
In fact, up to 13 different polymers may be used in a single car model, with polypropylene, polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) making up 66% of the polymers used in a car.
Since 1975, the automotive industry has been under governmental mandate to improve the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks manufactured in the United States. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, born out of the Arab Oil Embargo of the mid-70s, are still in effect today with recently added emphasis placed on further improving fuel economy, reducing greenhouse gases and saving people money at the gas pump.