Automakers will use 350 million pounds of reinforced thermoset composites in 2001 and 467 million by 2004 – a 34 percent increase in four years – according to the Automotive Composites Alliance (ACA), an industry association of 25 moulders, raw materials’ suppliers and toolmakers.

“The use of reinforced thermoset composites by automakers has nearly doubled in the last decade, largely because composites have increasingly been chosen by automakers to replace steel for body panels and structural components,” says Mike Dorney, ACA chairman and vice president of sales and marketing for The Budd Company Plastics Division in Troy, Mich.

“Consumer demand for more customised, durable, and fuel-efficient vehicles is driving the growth of composites,” says Dorney. “More, now than ever, automakers are looking for ways to beat competitors by adding value-enhancers for consumers, such as cost savings, fuel efficiency and dent- and corrosion-resistance. This also includes creating a car or truck that is visually appealing, yet meets their need for practicality.”

One of the largest areas for growth is in pickup box applications such as the 2001 Chevrolet 1500 Series SILVERADO 4×4 Extended Cab and the 2000 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, which combines the utility of a truck and the interior comfort of an SUV.

New-for-2001 components include:

2001 Chevrolet 1500 series 4WD Extended Cab Silverado — The reinforced reaction injection moulded (RRIM) box outer uses an RRIM material that is considerably different that the RRIM material used in the 1980s. The older RRIM formulations were unable to withstand the heat of the Elpo ovens. Dow Automotive has now formulated a resin used in the new RRIM material that is ELPO compatible. The structural reinforced reaction injection moulded (SRIM) box inner on the 2001 Chevrolet 1500 Series Silverado demonstrates the composites’ excellent durability. The tailgate inner on the 2001 Chevrolet 1500 Series Silverado uses an SMC/SRIM hybrid assembly.
Supplier: Cambridge Industries Inc.

2001 Ford Ranger XLT and 4×4 – The new Ranger XLT has a hood tonneau cover and front-end assembly made from sheet moulding composite (SMC). The move to composites allows Ford engineers to make styling changes efficiently and affordably.
Supplier: The Budd Company Plastics Division

2001 Chevrolet C/K Truck Rear Wheel – The new RRIM box outer is the largest automotive RRIM part ever produced (8 ft. long).
Supplier: The Budd Company Plastics Division

2001 Pontiac Aztek – The headlamp carrier on the Aztek is made from SMC.

The SMC moulding process allows for what would be several stamped steel components to be consolidated into one or few composite parts, reducing complexity and weight.
Supplier: Meridian Automotive Systems

2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac – The new Sport Trac features the industry’s first SMC cargo area with an integrated liner and side panels – again replacing what would have historically been a large, steel structure with a dent and corrosion-resistant cargo area. The Sport Trac is 30% lighter than a comparable sheet metal assembly and provides engineers the ability to create styling changes quickly and affordably. Optional factory-installed options, such as the SMC tonneau cover can be added. No bed liner is needed on the Sport Trac, which saves 25 lbs.
Supplier: The Budd Company Plastics Division

2001 Chevrolet Corvette – With a front floorboard made of natural balsa wood sandwiched between SMC panels, the Corvette is stiffer and lighter than a comparable steel assembly. It weighs 11 lbs., is 15 mm thick, and helps reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) from the engine.

2001 Yukon Denali & 830 Suburban – The new Yukon and Suburban have composite steps, or running boards, that are lightweight, corrosion-resistant and allow engineers to limit the number of parts needed to make the component, reducing complexity.
Supplier: Meridian Automotive Systems

2001 Chevrolet Avalanche Ultimate Utility Vehicle — The new Avalanche combines SMC and SRIM for the midgate and tailgate inner panels of the 2001 Avalanche, to offer the best in pickup and SUV amenities: dent- and corrosion-resistance and durability.
Supplier: Meridian Automotive Systems

2001 Renault Espace – Reinforced thermoset body panels on the Espace are up to 30% lighter weight than comparable steel panels and help reduce overall programme cost.
Supplier: Venture Industries