More and more automakers are incorporating plastic parts in their designs to reduce weight and emissions. Since the 1960s, the percentage of plastics in vehicles has increased steadily, and today overtakes metals pound for pound.
In 2004, DuPont announced a breakthrough product that allowed plastic to be used as structural support for the vehicle body. This development opened up new possibilities, as it reduced the expense and complexity of manufacturing steel support brackets, then coating them for corrosion resistance. The technology was used by Chrysler for its SUV and pickup brands.
However there are also growing concerns that the use of petro-chemical based plastics can leach toxic chemicals into water supplies, farmlands, and landfills. Some studies have also demonstrated the potential health risk of noxious fumes to passengers.
Automakers have begun experimenting with recyclable, safe plastics. Early this year, the Ecology Center, an activist environmental organization based in Michigan, USA rated the top automakers for their commitment to the use of non-toxic recyclable plastic. Toyota emerged as the clear leader among the manufacturers tested, although it barely passed the evaluation with a grade of ‘C.’