Auto Experts Discuss Fuel Efficiency, Plastics at 2011 New York International Auto Show

Plastics Playing Growing Role in Fuel Efficiency, Performance, Safety, Design

WASHINGTON, DC (May 17, 2011) – With fuel prices remaining stubbornly high across the country, the focus at the recent 2011 New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) was on lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles. Plastics Make it Possible® hosted a panel of automotive experts who examined the innovative role of plastics not only in fuel efficiency but also in performance, safety and design, particularly in light of the growing market for electric and hybrid vehicles.

“America’s Favorite Auto Expert” Barbara Terry moderated the panel, “Perspectives on Innovation in the Automotive Industry,” that featured a lineup of experts from various corners of the industry, including:

  • Huibert Mees, Chassis Technical Fellow at Tesla Motors
  • Aaron Robinson, Technical Editor at Car & Driver Magazine
  • Larry Erickson, Chair of Transportation Design at the College of Creative Studies
  • Don Schomer, Market Development Manager at Bayer MaterialScience

“The auto experts pointed out that plastics continue to drive consumer value, particularly in fuel efficiency,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council. “And looking over the past decades, we also see that plastics played an essential role in many key performance, safety and design innovations.”

The panel reviewed recent innovations in cars and automotive materials. Some highlights:

Plastics is playing a large role in auto safety. Aaron Robinson noted that targeted airbag systems made with the help of plastics such as the new seatbelt airbags in the Ford Explorer, are one of the most notable innovations in automotive safety.

Don Schomer pointed to the importance of “energy-managing” plastic foams such as polyurethane. Polyurethane foam is used in the cavities of pillars to mitigate roof crush and in doors, headrests and knee bolsters to protect passengers during impact.

Larry Erickson provided unique insight on the role of plastics in vehicle design, noting that plastics are the material of choice for automotive designers due to their flexibility.

Huibert Mees seconded Erickson’s view and pointed to the use of plastics in the interior of the forthcoming Tesla Model S, a full size electric car.

All panelists agreed that plastics have made serious contributions to the automobile and will continue to enable innovations in the automotive industry as they evolve. As Don Schomer noted, “Today’s plastic is a long way from the plastic of 20 years ago. It’s evolved, and it’s changed, and it’s not what we’ve seen in the past.”

For more information about how plastics contribute to innovations in the auto industry, visit

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