Are You Ready For: Plastic Windows?

As automakers face slowly diminishing returns in their attempts to make internal combustion engines more efficient (while facing huge challenges in electric, hydrogen and other alt-fuel drivetrains), they are looking ever more closely at alternative materials to improve efficiency (and, to a lesser extent, driving pleasure) through weight-savings. Perhaps the biggest emerging trend in this area, especially at the higher end of the market, is in the use of carbon fiber, which is being actively pursued by automakers like BMW, Toyota, Lamborghini and Daimler. But, as WardsAuto points out, there’s another material that’s trying to earn a place in the lightweight cars of tomorrow: polycarbonate plastics.

Polycarbonate windows weigh half as much as glass, and because they are made with injection molding they can come in shapes that can’t be imagined with glass.

However, the material is more expensive. To get auto makers to convert, Sabic and its main material competitor, Bayer MaterialScience, have to sell the idea of integrating other parts into the plastic mold that makes the window.

For example, says Umamaheswara, “on a liftgate, a lot of features can be integrated, and if the manufacturer is short of room in the factory, it can be delivered as a module.”

A modular liftgate could include the window, cladding for the D-pillar, a roof spoiler, the high-mounted rear brake light, a rear wiper foot, handles and logos. When all those processing costs are included, he says, polycarbonate is competitive with glass and metal.

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Who Wants In On The 2013 Viper? Anyone? Bueller?

With a new Viper being readied for a 2012 auto show debut ahead of a 2013 launch, Automotive News [sub]’s Rick Kranz has discovered something of an issue in the development process: suppliers don’t want in.

Ralph Gilles, who heads Chrysler Group’s design organization and SRT, the automaker’s performance group, says many suppliers said “thanks, but no thanks” when the automaker knocked on their doors.

“It has been tough to get low-volume suppliers,” Gilles says. “We have had a few hiccups here and there as we get suppliers. That type of fringe business has really dwindled. A lot of people are looking for big accounts now, but now that is behind us.”

Kranz blames low volume (2,103 units in its best year, 392 units last year) and supplier consolidation for the “hiccups.” But as it so happens, this has been a recurring problem for the Viper since day one…

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Orion Labor Issues Resurface As Union Takes Strike Vote [UPDATE: Strike Authorized]

[UPDATE: Automotive News [sub] reports that Linc workers voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize a strike, noting

With the strike authorization, the local can send notice to LINC that workers could strike after five business days if progress isn’t made toward a contract.

Ninety-eight percent of the 88 workers who voted yesterday agreed to authorize a strike, a representative at the union hall said this morning.

We’ve been watching the drama at GM’s Lake Orion plant unfold for some time now, as an “ innovative labor practices” agreement between the UAW, GM and the government has already drawn UAW protests and NLRB complaints, as well as increased backlash against the union’s two-tier wage structure. Thus far GM had been able to prevent Tier One workers from being forced into the second tier, by shuffling them off to the Flint HD pickup plant. But with GM’s truck inventory soaring to “Old GM” levels, Flint is being idled, and those “Tier One Gypsies” are once again facing the choice between moving to some other plant or accepting a 50% paycut to return to Orion. And now, another labor issue is raising its ugly head, as Crainsdetroit reports that

About 125 workers for a critical supplier [Linc Logistics] inside the General Motors Co. Orion Assembly Plant are taking a strike authorization vote today as a means of accelerating contract talks.

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Dark Days In Trollhttan: Foreign Suppliers Ready To Pull The Plug On Saab

Foreign suppliers could produce the final nail in the coffin of struggling Saab, the head of a European supplier association fears. “I think that the patience has more or less run out,” Lars Holmqvist, CEO of CLEPA, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers, said to Swedish news agency TT [via The Local]

Foreign suppliers “probably have less feeling for Saab than many Swedish companies which have grown up with Saab in a different way. Many also have a personal connection to Saab because they might have driven one at some point in their life. But the foreign suppliers are tougher,” Holmqvist, himself a Swede, told TT.

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Japan's Government Wants Standardized Autoparts

When I stopped working for Volkswagen in 2005, they had some 400,000 parts, or “numbers” as they are called in industry parlance, in their central warehouse in Kassel. With each car, the number climbed higher. On the other hand, some 5 percent were usually out of stock. The launch of each car caused raw nerves in the parts department. When a part was faulty, dealers and production manager were at war for parts. The production managers usually won, and blamed the dealers for shoddy service.

It’s tough enough to keep the hungry beasts at assembly lines and in workshops supplied with parts during peacetime. If a volcano over Iceland blows ash, or if a huge tsunami wipes out a good deal of Japan, it turns into parts paranoia. Now, Japan’s formerly powerful METI, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is using the Tohoku disaster to force the Japanese car industry to standardize a lot of the parts it uses.

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Saab Shuts Down Again, Situation "Tense," No End In Sight

Saab was supposed to reach 100% production speed sometime in the middle of last week after enduring a nearly two-month shutdown. But now it seems that more “material shortages” have brought the Trollhättan plant to its knees again, as Steve Wade of reports

Yesterday, production at Saab Automobile stopped at lunchtime due to material shortages. We have now stopped again today for the same reasons…

The liquidity situation is still tense, and depends on several different financing solutions falling into place, long-term as well as short-term. Some milestones have been achieved, such as the letter of intent signed with Pang Da and the additional funding that their order of Saab cars means. An example of things that still await a solution is the sale and leaseback of Saab AB Property, which we have addressed in previous communications. Representatives from Spyker and Saab will continue to work with these solutions, while the dialogue between Saab and suppliers progresses.

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UN: Recycling Rates For Key Green Car Elements Below 1%
A report by UNEP , the UN’s environmental body, finds that recycling rates for some of the key ingredients in EV and Hybrid cars are woefully low. The…
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The Truth About "America's" Small Car Comeback

With new compact and subcompact models from Ford and GM enjoying respectable sales, the mainstream media has been indulging in some “feel-good” headlines, like the New York Times’s Detroit’s Rebound Is Built on Smaller Cars, or CBS’s more equivocal Can small cars rebound U.S. auto industry? It’s an understandable instinct, as the media has long battered Detroit’s inability to build competitive compact and subcompact cars, and in the post-bailout atmosphere of redemption, these headlines definitely help reassure Americans about the value of their “investment.” Unfortunately (if unsurprisingly), however, these pieces gloss over the full truth of the situation. Yes, Ford and GM are enjoying improved sales success with small cars. The “U.S. auto industry,” on the other hand, isn’t actually getting all that much out of the situation, beyond some fluffily positive press. Here’s why:

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Quote Of The Day: Escape From Trollhttan Edition
We still have not heard from Saab and there have been six weeks without production. It eventually reaches a point when you have to make a decisionJohan Ander…
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Saab Has Enough Money For Muller's Bonus, But Does It Have Enough To Restart Production?

Saab has received wire transfers of around €30m from both Gemini Investments and the Chinese dealer group PangDa, reports Aftonbladet, and it will be using that money to pay off its supplier debts which could use up most of that cash (Saab’s supplier debts are estimated by at between two hundred and four hundred million kroner, or as much as €44m). Leaving aside the issue of how that money was able to be transferred from China to Sweden in a matter of two days (more on that from Bertel here, the short version: the deal should need Chinese government approval), there are serious questions about Saab’s ability to restart production. After all, the €30m from Gemini is debt, while Saab owes PengDa for an undisclosed number of vehicles that it bought with its investment. Unless those cars are sitting somewhere waiting to be shipped, Saab will have to pay off its suppliers and then build the cars on what is essentially credit from PengDa. Meanwhile, that’s not the only demand on Saab’s finances and attention, as CEO Victor Muller is planning on taking a bonus of over half a million dollars, a decision that is creating fresh problems of its own.

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Industry: Bailout? What Bailout?

TTAC has always taken pride in its outsider status, and we’ve taken pains to cover the industry from a safe distance in order to continually bring a fresh perspective to developments. As a result, we’re not always on the same page as trends in the industry at large, which tends to be far more given to wild optimism than the average TTAC analysis. But, based on a new study by Booz & Company [ PDF], it seems that the “carpocalypse” of recent years has driven the industry to a more TTAC-esque pessimism. According to responses by executives at both OEMs and suppliers, the industry generally feels that the bailout was either a missed opportunity or it didn’t do enough to address fundamental weaknesses… and as a result, executives see challenges ahead.

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Japanese Parts Paralysis: Lack Of Chips For Cars Can Cost $76 Billion

When we worked on the Phaeton launch in 2001, we said it had “more computers than a small company.” It had 56. Today’s cars have anywhere between 30 and 100 computers on board. They are small microcontrollers that typically chat with each other via a CAN bus. You don’t take just any microcontroller for the job. They need to hold up to the harsh environment inside of a car. Their makers need to hold up to the harsh environment presented by the purchasing departments of automakers that squeeze them for every penny. As a result of both, there are only a few players in this field. This is the story of one of them.

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GM Books $1.6b Gain On Delphi Share Sale/Pension Shell Game
As galling as the auto bailout was for many Americans, the hidden “stealth bailouts” that occurred during the government-led industry reorganizat…
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Parts Paralysis Daily Digest, March 30

Our (not quite) daily run-down of delays, shut-downs, shortages, and postponements, triggered by the March 11 tsunami in Japan.

  • Toyota will have lost production of 200,000 vehicles by Friday. The Nikkei [sub]
  • Toyota says that 300 dealerships out of a total of 810 in North Japan have been damaged by the earthquake. The Nikkei [sub]
  • Nissan figures its Chinese output will be about 10 lower than planned in April as supply chain disruptions hinder operations. The Dongfeng Nissan joint venture will idle plants on weekends until mid-April, but will continue doing overtime on weekdays. Dongfeng Nissan has trouble getting parts from Hitachi. The Nikkei [sub]
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Japanese Parts Paralysis Now Affecting China

“Production at a Nissan Motor plant in China dwindled dramatically two weeks after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami disrupted the supply of key auto parts,” reports China’s People’s Daily, citing “sources with the company.”

In a land where alleged spokespeople of a company get a heart attack and hang up when a reporter calls, those sources turned out to be workers at the Dongfeng Nissan joint venture in central China’s Hubei Province. “We used to assemble 304 cars a day, but today our plan is set at 82,” said a worker.

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  • Probert It's worth pointing out that this car gets this great range due to its very low cd rating. It ha a relatively small 77kw battery. This aero efficiency gives it about 50 more miles relative to the ioniq 5, which uses the same powertrain. KIA/Hyundai make really good EVs. Hopefully this becomes more common.
  • ToolGuy My Author has a high level of self-absorption (nothing wrong with that, maybe).Corey you are a Lexus buyer. Told you already but you are pacing yourself (nothing wrong with that, maybe). Keep scratching off non-Lexi from your list and you'll be fine (maybe).Congrats on the new job/new industry.
  • ToolGuy The [url=]XJ platform[/url] is super interesting to me, more so after owning one and working on it some (but not a lot, because it didn't need a lot). The overall size is almost perfect; add more space to the back seat (and carry it to the wheelbase) if we are starting over.One could argue, if one knew anything about vehicles, that the 4-door XJ is a major reason why U.S. fleet [all of everyone's vehicles averaged together] fuel economy is so bad in 2023.
  • ToolGuy ToolGuy can't solve all the issues raised here tonight, but this does remind me that I have some very excellent strawberry jam direct from Paris in the fridge.
  • ToolGuy Cool.(ToolGuy supports technology advancement, as well as third-person references)