There are lots of awards honoring cars and trucks of the year, but becoming that special car or truck requires the efforts of thousands of designers and engineers who usually aren't recognized for the excellence they bring to a vehicle.

The Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers has taken special care for the past 37 years to rectify that by acknowledging the achievements of plastics engineers with its annual SPE Innovation Awards for individual components.

Underscoring how important interior lighting is becoming, the grand award, SPE's most prestigious, was in the materials category for an application that creates backlighting using color-converting plastic on the '07 Chevrolet Tahoe audio system module supplied by Delphi Electronics and Safety.

The patented system for producing custom-colored backlighting uses light from light-emitting diode bulbs fed through light-distribution pipes. It relies on special fluorescing dyes and proprietary light-scattering additives in translucent resins used to mold buttons, knobs and backlit plates, rather than more costly custom-colored LED bulbs.

Judges were impressed that moving color control from the LED to the plastic button not only results in more uniform, controllable emitted color, it also makes backlighting in low-volume, niche colors economically feasible.

The rest of the award winners were:

Body Exterior — Composite assist step on the '07 Chevy TrailBlazer. Produced by Magna International Inc.'s Decoma unit, a novel rib design and use of weatherable material enables the 1-piece running board to withstand higher loads — without bending — than the 5-piece steel and plastic assembly it replaces. The part also is lauded for reducing weight 50% and providing a direct cost savings of $19 vs. the previous component.

Body Interior — Door trim and hardware module on the '06 Dodge Caliber. This assembly, produced by Grupo Antolin, won over the judges because it combines all door hardware components and a trim panel in a single module.

Chassis/Hardware — Extruded seal for HIM door modules on the '07 Dodge Nitro/'08 Jeep Liberty. Produced by Faurecia Interior Systems, this part represents the first time a thermoplastic elastomer material has been extruded directly onto a door module carrier, providing a 360-degree seal that acts as a water barrier between wet/dry sides, and an acoustic barrier. It also seals out dirt and dust. The seal is fully recyclable, simplifies assembly and is more robust than previous technology. It reduces material cost 53%, capital expenses 15%, seal mass 48% and cure time 90%.

Powertrain — Electronic throttle control module on '07 Chrysler Pacifica. Produced by Robert Bosch Corp., this is the first ETC housing made of plastic. It replaces a machined cast aluminum part for a 28% mass savings and a cost savings of 18%, while reducing warranty costs and the potential for other problems relating to freezing and throttle blade stick.

Process — Front-end carrier on the '07 Volkswagen Golf/Bora/Jetta. Supplied by Aksys de Mexico SA de C.V., this is the first direct long-fiber thermoplastic composite front-end carrier compounded with a twin-screw extruder, instead of using a single-screw extruder during the inline compounding portion of the process. The technique provides cost and weight savings while eliminating many secondary operations.

Performance/Customization — Folding pickup bed extender on the Ford F-250 pickup. Produced by ABC Group Inc., this is the first blow-molded plastic pickup bed extender, replacing roll-formed steel and aluminum structures. It reduces part count, weight and costs associated with assembly and quality issues.