By Rhoda Miel, Plastics News Staff
The 2010 Taurus' door panels use a spray urethane skin that mimics the look of a hand-wrapped leather trim, right down to the stitches and wrinkles from the original leather model replicated in a soft and pliant thermoplastic.
Urethane skin has been used in the auto industry for about 10 years, but by choosing the material and process early, designing for that material from the start and having the carmaker and its parts supplier work closely together, the Taurus door panels are able to take the material to another level.
"We're delivering something that you wouldn't find except on a $160 000 Aston Martin, and we're delivering the same quality at a $26 000 price," said Lon Zaback, interior design manager for Dearborn-based Ford. "It's making good design accessible."
For decades PVC was the material of choice for auto interior skins, but problems with its performance in both heat and cold and concerns about the process of making PVC has brought other material options to the forefront in the past decade. Urethane has been gaining attention because of its ability to imitate the feel of far more expensive leather, but being less expensive and easier to process than leather.
While some inexpensive cars bypass the skin and rely only on the structural substrate, automakers increasingly have focused on boosting the look and feel of cars' interiors with a trim made of a structural substrate and flexible skin, with soft foam sprayed between the two layers for a soft touch.
Ford designers who gathered to create the next-generation Taurus in February 2007 made an early decision to use urethane - as early as March or April of 2007, Matt Quam, design and release engineer for Ford, said in a 14 Sept telephone interview.
Skin made through a spray process gave Ford an ability to design in tighter radius curves and corners, which means smaller gaps between interior parts, Zaback said.
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