Signifying increased cooperation among its members and a desire to speed up the use of plastics in automotive applications, the American Plastics Council is exhibiting for the first time here in Traverse City during the Management Briefing Seminars.

“We’ve had no presence officially here in the past,” says Bruce Cundiff, director of automotive for the APC, a national trade organization representing 24 resin producers founded in 1988. “I think this really shows what is happening with the (APC’s) Automotive Group. Now we’re capable of doing these things. Whereas before we were not organized enough in a form where we could do something like this.”

The APC’s cubicle is booth C in the exhibit area located downstairs near the registration table. Representatives of APC member companies will staff it throughout the week. Visitors will see examples of plastics’ weight reduction, engineering and styling capabilities on an interactive video screen, demonstrating how automakers are using plastics for various components. To symbolize the fuel savings capabilities of plastics, the APC is giving out one gallon plastic gas cans. “A 16-million-year-car build gives over 300 million gallons of fuel savings -- and that’s conservatively,” claims Mr. Cundiff.

In addition to its booth at the Management Briefing Seminars, the APC has been educating automotive executives, engineers and designers since the late 1990s when it opened the Automotive Learning Center in Troy, MI. “The main focus of the Automotive Learning Center is to promote the use of plastics in automotive. Since we started three years ago, our strategies, tactics and objectives are actually making a difference,” Mr. Cundiff tells Ward’s.

He notes that currently more than 70% of fuel tanks are plastic compared to about 25% five years ago. Plastics also have made considerable progress with pickup boxes -- the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and Chevy Silverado -- and the plastic-intensive Ford Thunderbird, which features a plastic roof module and side panels. The APC foresees a 4% to 6% annual growth rate for the next several years. But competition from steel, aluminum and other materials could make that difficult. For example, the American Iron and Steel Institute claims that the next-generation Audi A8 and Mercedes S-Class and A-Class will switch from plastic fuel tanks to steel to meet more stringent evaporative emissions regulations. “I think there will be places that steel gets one or two wins. But I think in general plastics has solutions to those challenges,” says Don Little, chair of the APC’s Automotive Group and director of quality and management systems for Dow Automotive.