Special Coverage

Frankfurt Auto Show

FRANKFURT – French components maker Plastic Omnium SA is planning a factory in India to produce front bumpers for an ultra low-cost car to be built there.

“If we are part of the project from the beginning, we can cut 30% to 40% of the cost of the bumper,” Marc Szulewicz, president of the automotive business, says at the auto show here.

Up to now, the company’s research and development engineers have worked on sophisticated parts, he says. “There is still a trend toward further improving high-end cars, but we also have to provide solutions for emerging countries.”

Plastic Omnium, through its Auto Exteriors division and two joint ventures, has three factories in China now and is planning three more in the next two years. It also has a new plant under construction in Argentina and will build next in Poland, India and South Korea.

All told, the company is installed at 77 industrial sites, sometimes with as many as four plants per site: Automotive Exteriors’ thermoplastic parts, Inoplast’s thermoset parts, Hella Behr Plastic Omnium’s front ends and Inergy’s fuel tanks.

Plastic Omnium has been growing faster than the automotive market it serves, says CEO Laurent Burelle, who predicts the company this year should see another 5%-7% gain.

The French-based supplier does 72% of its business outside the domestic market, and the figure will grow to 80% as it follows auto makers into emerging markets. Growth has come both from providing parts that weigh less than steel and from more complex modules.

On an average car, Plastic Omnium has parts on the market that shave 12.1 lbs. (5.5 kg) off the front end and 13 lbs. (6 kg) in the rear, compared with conventional steel construction, Szulewicz says.

Newer parts being validated with various auto makers could cut weight by 47.4 lbs. (21.5 kg) in front and 31 lbs. (14 kg) in back, resulting in a 4.5 g/km savings in carbon dioxide emissions, important to meet new European standards. In a large car, the weight savings could run as high as 106 lbs. (48 kg).

Two unvalidated ideas for rear-end weight savings are presented at the show: motorized rear-hatch and SUV tailgate systems made with a combination of thermoset and thermoplastic panels.

While motorized liftgates have been common in the U.S. for years, they are rare in Europe. Plastic Omnium says by using a combination of

thermoset and thermoplastic panels to save weight, the proposed liftgates

and tailgates require smaller motorized mechanisms and less energy to operate.

Both the SUV system, called INOVA X-Tray, and the hatchback INOVA Replay open in two parts to accommodate the frequent need for a small opening and the occasional need to have the entire rear space available.

Plastic Omnium’s wholly owned subsidiary, IPO Rear Closures, is concentrating on developing and marketing the systems.

Among other weight-saving products for the front end is the SMC front fender support and thermoplastic fender in the BMW Concept X6 unveiled at the show. This saves a total of 18 lbs. (8 kg), compared with the classic solution – 9 lbs. (4 kg) by substituting SMC and thermoplastic for steel and an additional 4 kg from integrating functions into the design.

Another structure, in production on two cars with eight more projects to come, is a front-end frame designed to absorb crash forces as well as supporting other components. It weighs 20% less than a classic steel solution, says Szulewicz, and also allows auto makers to shorten the front overhang.