Where do hybrid and electric cars fit in?
For future hybrid or electric cars, it will be even more important to keep the weight down to increase the driving range. OEMs will do even more to replace metal by plastic. I especially foresee bio-based materials to be used for these green cars. It would be perfect if there would be an electric car made out of bio-based materials, because that would be the most optimal for our planet.
How is DSM helping automotive companies solve eco-efficiency challenges?
As engines are getting smaller and smaller, OEM’s have to add a turbo system to the vehicle to get enough power. Temperatures in these turbo systems can reach up to 450 F. We have developed materials that can cope with these kinds of temperatures for more than 5000 hours. Now it’s possible to replace metal with high-temperature-resistant thermoplastics, even with turbo systems.
Who are leaders in driving material advances in the automotive industry?
It’s difficult to predict which technology will be the winning technology. There are so many potential solutions available. It is becoming more and more difficult to get them to market and they take a long time and a lot of resources to get there. Companies are mainly looking for short-term results. The question becomes, who is going to pay for innovation? The automotive industry is not a very healthy industry, so they always rely on their suppliers – on the part suppliers or even the material suppliers – to pay for the innovation. But suppliers, DSM included, have to watch for their own short-term profits, so it becomes more and more difficult to pay for all these innovations.
My gut feeling is that at the moment the OEMs in Europe, like Daimler or BMW or Audi, are a little bit faster acting than the other OEMs. It’s also logical. They have these big luxury cars. And the weight of these luxury cars has to go down even further than in smaller cars. In the end, companies like VW or Renault or Ford or GM are more in the commodity game with smaller and cheaper cars. They can’t even afford to do too much on innovation, because they are even more cost-conscious than the big luxury OEM producers.
What do you hope to see in the future of automotive composites?
I believe that the OEMs should engage themselves more and not always put the design responsibility for the innovation back on the suppliers. There should be more cooperation between all parties. Also, smarter choices have to be made. Everyone is walking into 20 different directions, and in the end they are all focusing on the same part in the car. There can only be one optimal production and material solution.