Plastics and the automotive industry enjoy a long history together. From the early introduction of Bakelite to the engineering thermoplastics of today, plastics have made cars more fuel efficient, lighter, and more affordable. These factors are as important now as they have ever been. With mandatory fleet standards increasing to 54.5 mpg by 2025, the push for light, durable, low-cost parts is at an all-time high.
While these technological advancements are great for achieving higher efficiency, they are simply the stepping stones to the next evolution of cars… the electric evolution. Recently, GM announced it would be adding 1,200 workers to their Detroit-Hamtramck assembly operation to facilitate a second shift. This is a major move in the industry with regards to electric vehicle production as Detroit-Hamtramck is home to GM’s EV production.
GM is not the only player scaling up their EV game. Numerous other auto manufacturers are currently developing electrics and a massive upsurge of prototypes have begun appearing at auto shows and in publications. This shift comes as the industry attempts to capitalize on the success of the Tesla Model S. The luxury EV, in its third year of production, has made waves in the auto industry thereby creating the ripple effect needed to push electric vehicle production to the forefront.
These developments, however exciting, may not be the only catalyst increasing desire for alternatives to traditional, internal combustion vehicles. With Volkswagen’s emissions scandal breaking, those focused on the environment may seek to get away from vehicles powered by fossil fuels all together. This makes for a very desirable landscape as Tesla prepares to release their Model 3 in 2017. This new platform is slated to be an affordable avenue into owning an all-electric car. At $35,000, the price is slightly more than a new Prius, but if the single charge range is practical, savings in fuel cost should justify the offset.
However it is not all coming up roses for Tesla right now either. With Consumer Reports recently pulling their recommendation, Elon Musk’s brand saw their stock drop 6.6 percent the day immediately following the announcement. The consumer group stated that after reviewing customer feedback there were simply too many problems to recommend the car. Issues ranging from rattles and leaks to motor troubles were reported by owners. While most of the issues fell under the umbrella of the company’s four-year, 50,000 mile warranty, it was the speculation of what could happen, after the warranties expire, that caused the protection group to revise their initial stance.
These problems have not seemed to influence current Tesla owners however, the same report also states that 97 percent would buy their Model S again. This is either an indication that followers of Mr. Musk do in fact drink the proverbial Kool-Aid or, a testament to the mild severity of the problems listed in the Consumer Reports study. Either way, I feel the schism in the auto industry has already begun and the next leader to emerge will be the first to produce a truly affordable and functional electric car for the masses.
The subsequent R&D race should account for massive technological advancements throughout the industry. The major focus of which will be on getting the farthest distance out of a single charge. However, keeping weight down while maintaining strength and durability will play a major role as well, areas where plastics excel. All of these dynamics together should create a perfect storm of opportunities for the relationship between the automotive and plastics industries.
Title: GM to Add 1,200 Worker at Detroit-Hamtramck
Publication: Industry Week
Author: Laura Putre
Title: Consumer Reports Stops Recommending the Tesla
Publication: The New York Times
Author: Jad Mouawad
Title: Automakers Ahead of 2020 Schedule Fuel Economy Targets
Publication: The Los Angeles Times
Author: Jerry Hirsch
Title: VW Scandal Could Hurt Diesel
Publication: Plastics News
Author: Bill Bregar