Hockey season is right around the corner and soon talk of power play goals will return to ESPN. While the Red Wings and Devils get a break, automakers and suppliers are involved in a year-round power play -- one that requires just as much speed, grace and teamwork as the hockey version.

The automotive power play takes place under the hood rather than under a large scoreboard. Instead of putting a puck in a net, the goals are increasing horsepower and efficiency and reducing weight. Once the sole domain of auto company engineers, suppliers now are becoming intimately involved in underhood planning.

Ford Motor Co. adds 5 hp and 10 ft.-lbs. of torque to the '96 Mustang with the help of a new composite air intake manifold developed by Montaplast North America and DuPont Automotive. Weighing half as much as its predecessor, Mustang's manifold is made of glass-reinforced DuPont Zytel nylon 6,6. By working with the molder and the material supplier, Ford was able to use a carry-over fuel injector system that mounts directly to the new manifold with a tight tolerance.

"Perhaps the most exciting element of the Mustang air intake manifold development program was the global partnership that developed between Ford, Montaplast and DuPont," says Michael Ellenbeck, a technical sales engineer at Montaplast. "We were able to leverage the global technology resources of Ford's engineering staff, DuPont Automotive's materials expertise and Montaplast's tooling knowledge to speed development time, eliminate the prototype phase, reduce tooling costs and make rapid, in-progress design changes as necessary."

Zytel also is being used for valve covers on the Porsche Carrera 911. Porsche and DuPont started working together four years ago, with DuPont contributing its application technology and CAD knowledge in developing tools and prototypes. Supplier involvement under-the-hood for model-year 1996 doesn't stop there. Robert Bosch Corp. responds to a Ford request for a low-cost fuel injector with a version of the EV6 injector for the Taurus/Sable. Rick Volansky, a senior Bosch sales engineer, says some internal components had to be changed from the original design to optimize fuel flow. The changes, along with Ford's involvement in Bosch's design and process controls, led to monthly meetings at Ford headquarters in Dearborn, MI, Bosch's automotive group in Farmington Hills, MI, and Bosch's corporate technical facility in Germany.

While increasing power and efficiency, automakers and suppliers are striving to harness that energy to prevent noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), one of the industry's hottest buttons. Chrysler's '96 LH vehicles are equipped with a new cradle mount made of microcellular polyurethane (MCU). Supplied by Freudenberg-NOK General Partnership, the new component isolates noise at the cradle-to-body structure interface. The supplier says going from rubber to MCU decreases weight of the assembly 12%.

Ford's new 3L, 24-valve, 6-cyl. Duratec engine features another Freudenberg-NOK innovation - a composite thermostat housing, which replaces an aluminum case. Designed by Auttocom LLC, a technology partnership between Freudenberg-NOK and Monaco-based molder Mecaplast, the new housing reduces weight by 44%, cost by 23%, parts by 55% and cuts assembly operations by 50%, says Kurt S. Kushner, Auttocom segment manager.