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The automotive industry has evolved significantly over the past several decades, with manufacturers implementing various changes to enhance the safety and comfort of consumers. The primary focus, in this context, has been on creating lightweight vehicles and making them highly fuel-efficient, which has resulted in the extensive use of high-performance plastics in the vehicle manufacturing process. However, with the rising global concern about the damaging environmental effects of plastic pollution, there is mounting pressure on vehicle manufacturers to reduce the use of plastic in automotive applications.
The colossal use of plastic within automotive manufacturing can be better understood by the fact that out of the 30,000 automotive parts present in an average vehicle, nearly 1/3rd are made from plastic materials. Most automotive manufacturers use specially designed engineering plastics that are well suited for use for making both interior and exterior components of a vehicle. The most commonly used plastics for making the various parts and components of a vehicle include acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polycarbonate, polypropylene, polyethylene, polyurethane, and polyvinyl chloride. However, the type of plastic used for exterior trims such as headlamp lenses, car bumpers, handles, wheel covers, etc, may vary significantly from the ones used for making interior components such as instrument panels, interior wall covers, and truck bed liners. It is equally important to use the right plastic for making fuel system parts, carburetors, engine covers, and other similar parts that need to have extremely high heat resistance and chemical resistance.
Since it was first discovered, plastic has become the material of choice in various automotive applications. This man-made material has played a critical role in developing automotive design solutions aimed at reducing the overall vehicle weight of the final product without compromising its safety and durability. The advances in polymer technology have further led to the development of premium-grade plastics that are way stronger and more versatile than the common plastics used in everyday life. These plastics are suitable for heavy-duty applications and meet the stringent performance requirements of high-end autonomous vehicles. The various properties and features of these polymers make them suitable for creating glass-reinforced car bodies, ensuring good dimensional stability, and optimizing the fuel efficiency of the vehicles. Some properties that make PVC an optimal choice for manufacturing different components within the automotive industry.
Several factors are responsible for the popularity of plastic, including its various chemical and mechanical properties. However, these benefits are undermined by its one single drawback, namely its poor biodegradability. Even the most common plastic items take thousands of years to decompose. extremely damaging for the environment. Since the plastics used in automotive applications are made from more complex polymers, their bio-degradability is further reduced. This means that even a few carpet fibres can take made from PVC materials can take hundreds of years to decompose. It would not be wrong to state that the plastics that help in creating fuel efficient vehicles and providing better electrical insulation for electrical and hybrid cars are highly resistant to the natural process of biodegradation.
The race to minimize auto fuel consumption and reduce the weight of vehicles has created catastrophic consequences for the global environment. The lack of stricter environmental regulations combined with the callus attitude of auto manufacturers has further resulted in such actions going unchecked, causing further damage and tipping the ecological balance. It is high time for both auto companies and governments across the globe to stop thinking about saving gas cans and focus on saving our planet. Taking proactive measures to minimize and finally cease the use of plastic in automotive applications is the most important step that needs to be taken in this direction.