To get beyond CAFE to 2030, we’ll need this roadmap

Arguably the most influential force in the North American automotive market is the joint Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards which set emissions and miles per gallon (mpg) requirements for model year 2025 vehicles to more than 50 mpg. This rapid mpg increase, combined with ever present consumer demand for better performance and appealing styling at an affordable price, has the automotive industry searching for ways they can cost effectively drop more and more weight from vehicles while maintaining quality and safety.

All materials industries—plastics and polymer composites as well as steel, aluminum, and magnesium—are working to respond to the automotive industry’s changing needs. The plastics and polymer composites industry has a long track record of delivering strong performance and continues to pursue transformative innovations.

Innovations in plastics and polymer composites offer an unmatched energy absorbing capability per unit mass, making them a strong, lightweight choice. At a weight 50% lighter than conventional steel and 30% lighter than aluminum, more automakers are taking notice: for example, BMW is using the carbon fiber polymer composites as the body structure of its electric city car, the i3, which goes on sale in the United States in 2014.

Plastics and polymer composites can be a major part of the solution for automakers. To fully realize this opportunity, several barriers should be addressed. For example, carbon-fiber-reinforced composites are still costly, discouraging many automakers from using them extensively in vehicle fleets.

The vast number of specialized, proprietary material compositions and processing techniques within the plastics and polymer composites industry—a strength that allows materials to be tailored to specific needs—also creates barriers to addressing major challenges collaboratively. The combination of opportunities and challenges that are driving the automotive plastics and polymer composites market today make it an ideal time to develop and implement a plan that capitalizes on these drivers by guiding cooperative action and supporting needed innovation.

Recognizing this pressing need, the automotive and plastics and polymer composites industries worked together with the guidance of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) Plastics Division to create this roadmap (Plastics and Polymer Composites Technology Roadmap for Automotive Markets), a new strategic framework for collaborative progress. The roadmap sets a path: by 2030, the automotive industry and society will recognize plastics and polymer composites as preferred material solutions that meet, and in many cases set, automotive performance and sustainability requirements. We invite you to download and review the new roadmap and to let us know what you think.

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