By Steve Toloken, Plastics News Staff
Hong Kong, China -- Plastics are playing a larger role in making cars lighter and commercialising electric vehicles, but for one prominent automotive designer, more still needs to be done.
In an interview at the recent Business of Design Week in Hong Kong, Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice president of BMW Group Design, said he was excited by the creative possibilities opening up with the new lightweight materials, including traditional plastics, carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CRFP) and aluminium.
But he also urged materials firms to continue making advancements, as car companies come under more environmental pressure, and had some specific advice for plastics companies.
"[Reducing vehicle weight] is getting more and more important because we are going into I think an era of quite a lot of change in the automotive field," said van Hooydonk, who is responsible for the design development of the BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce brands. "We are going to zero emission mobility."
BMW, for example, plans to roll out what it calls "zero local" emission or low emission models in 2013, its all-electric i3 for urban driving and its hybrid i8 sports car.
Van Hooydonk, who worked as a designer for GE Plastics Europe in Bergen Op Zoom early in his career, said both of the new i Series cars use all-plastic body panels, a carbon fibre plastic composite structure and aluminium substructures. They're all needed to cut weight to accommodate the heavy batteries these next-generation cars need, he said.
In its press materials for the i Series, BMW said CFRP is at least as strong as steel but 50 percent lighter.
BMW is particularly interested in CFRP materials, and is working to fully commercialise what he called "industrial" carbon fiber manufacturing that can be mass-produced quickly.
He contrasted that with the current carbon fibre manufacturing technology it uses, which is similar to that used to make race cars, a very slow process.
BMW opened a joint venture carbon fibre manufacturing plant in Washington State in mid-2011.
(Read more here at Plastics News, a Crain publication)