5 Innovations for Lighter, Smarter Auto Parts

Plastics in More Places

In one of the most famous movie lines ever, "Mr. McGuire" (Walter Brooke) uttered what would become a classic bit of advice to "Benjamin" (a then-fresh-faced Dustin Hoffman) in the 1967 film "The Graduate:" "I just want to say one word to you ... plastics. There's a great future in plastics, will you think about it?"

Decades later, Mr. McGuire's counsel has proven not only prophetic, but also remarkably enduring. Plastic appears in some form on almost every item we buy, from the packaging to the object itself. Even today, researchers are looking into ways to make plastics more versatile, stronger and capable of withstanding more extreme conditions.

One company, Polimotor, has gone so far as to propose and build plastic engines, claiming a 30-percent weight savings over traditional all-metal engines.

In the near term however, you're still likely to see plastic in conventional places, just more of it.

In addition to interior parts such as trim, knobs, consoles and panels being made of plastic, it's also used for front and rear bumpers, side skirts and mirror housings.

It may not be too far off that you see everyday production vehicles whose entire exterior bodies are made of plastic, skipping the aluminum or steel typically used for body panels.

We could even find a good use for some of the estimated 2.5 million tons of plastic water bottles thrown away each year: The Hyundai QarmaQ concept, as an example, boasts a body made substantially out of recycled plastic water bottles. There's yet another "wonder material" poised to relieve some of the weight burden imposed by steel parts, while providing equal or better strength. Read all about it on the next page.