If DaimlerChrysler Corp. meets its goal of making the plastic-bodied, diesel/electric hybrid-powered ESX3 affordable by '04, look for it to go into production by '07, says Thomas Moore, vice president Liberty and Technical Affairs, Engineering Technologies.

The head of the company's off-site think tank has a couple major goals: surround himself with talent in an environment that breeds invention; and getting the concepts into production.

Projects like the CCV, or China Concept Vehicle as it was called when it was first shown about six years ago, don't exist today. A business case could not be made for the plastic car designed for emerging markets in China, India and parts of Asia. It did prove a safe vehicle could be constructed out of four pieces of plastic as opposed to more than 100 steel stampings. The CCV body was a left and right outer panel and left and right inner panel, held together by some closure fixtures.

Its innovative use of lightweight thermoplastic plastic was resurrected in the ESX series of concepts, the ESX3 being the latest.

Mr. Moore has much higher hopes for this one. The cost is coming down. The original in 1996 had a $60,000 cost penalty. The ESX2 brought it down to $15,000 more than a conventional family sedan and the latest would add about $7,500 in cost.

At some point, the company wants a production plastic vehicle for North America. It would be assembled in a facility that cost half that of a conventional factory because it would not need expensive body and paint shops.

“It's the most affordable way to get weight out,” adds Mr. Moore.

But that is not possible until the carmaker can get Class A surface finishes out of colored thermoplastic. DCC already is using molded-in color plastic hardtops for the '01 Jeep Wrangler (see Ward's Automotive Reports — Nov. 8, '99, p.3). But the finish on the Jeep hardtop is grainy. A complete production car needs a glossy, metallic finish. Still, the Jeep work is providing invaluable experience in molding, bonding, repeatability and other logistics of working with plastic, Mr. Moore says.