TROY, MI – Sabic Innovative Plastics and Azdel Inc. introduce a new composite they say largely can replace steel in some automotive applications, reducing weight and increasing fuel economy.

Dubbed IXIS 157, the layered hybrid thermoplastic composite can be used for horizontal body panels, the suppliers say at the Society of Plastic Engineers Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition here.

In addition to being 50% lighter than steel, the new composite is affordable and can reduce tooling costs in stamping plants.

It also boasts greater resistance to damage than steel, is recyclable and can reduce noise, vibration and harshness levels, a key concern for auto makers, says Mike Birrell, director of exterior composites for Azdel.

“It is significantly less expensive than aluminum, and because IXIS composites are designed for low-pressure compression molding, a low-energy process, less costly aluminum tools can be used,” he says.

The composite is composed of a “random glass fiber reinforced core with a 50% glass content,” layered with a “continuous unidirectional fiber reinforced thermoplastic,” the suppliers say, noting its unique structure enables it to retain a Class-A paint finish suitable for production vehicles.

General Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. used earlier versions of the IXIS composite in a couple of concept cars, says Greg Adams, vice president of Sabic’s automotive division.

“We’ve leveraged our resources around the globe to develop the IXIS materials, which have been featured on two of the most successful ‘green’ concept vehicles in the world: the Chevrolet Volt and Hyundai QarmaQ,” he says, adding the material can help address the industry’s environmental, performance and cost challenges.

Although the suppliers refuse to divulge whether they have secured contracts for the new composite, Birrell says Azdel has several development programs with Ford Motor Co., which it has worked with in the past.

“We did all of the interior for the (Ford) GT using our ‘Superlight’ material,” he says. “It’s the kind of material that’s used in the core (of IXIS), and has a good acoustic property.

“Ford used it for the GT’s headliner, door panels and fascia,” he says, noting Superlight is also employed by GM, Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd.

Birrell says the supplier is pitching IXIS to Ford for many of its European products, including the Kuga compact cross/utility vehicle, which he says the auto maker plans to sell in North America. Azdel already supplies roof structures for Ford’s Transit commercial van, Birrell says.

In addition to Ford, Azdel is in talks with several European auto makers, which are considering using the composite for panoramic roofs, Birrell says.