Chrysler Corp. is studying whether it can build a one-piece plastic car body that needs no paint.
'We want to gain experience with this plastic body molding technology to the point where we can essentially do a whole body in one shot out of the mold,' said Robert Lutz, Chrysler vice chairman.
As the technology advances, Lutz envisions a blow-molded car 'created like a Clorox bottle.'
The process promises a simple-to-produce body. But it would also enable Chrysler to build a body that doesn't need paint.
The company could whack 25 percent off the cost of a car by using plastic with molded-in color, Lutz said.
'So a $16,000 car you can get down to $12,000, and all the customer really has to give up is the shiny paint,' he said.
Chrysler is researching advanced plastic bodies for its China Concept Vehicle, said spokesman Scott Fosgard. The vehicle, with a small 800-cc, two-cylinder engine, was unveiled at the Chrysler Technology Center in October.
The company has not decided whether to produce the low-cost car, which is designed for emerging markets.
Lutz said Chrysler is nowhere near a decision to produce one-piece plastic bodies.
'It's a research project at this point,' he said.
Chrysler revealed its interest in molded-in color with the Plymouth Pronto concept car, which was displayed in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
While the Pronto's doors and other panels are steel, the company said the car could use molded-in color panels.
Unpainted plastic surfaces currently do not match the gloss of factory paint jobs, and it is not clear if consumers would accept flat paint jobs.
Lutz said, 'If you think about the implications - if it's a good molding color and if you can get the customer at that end of the market away from the need to have glossy paint - it becomes a gigantic plastic toy that has an engine and a transmission and that you can sit in and drive.
'And that technology is worth pursuing,' Lutz said.
NEW MATERIAL NEEDED
An executive from a major automotive plastics company said there is no plastic that would hold up in extreme heat and intense cold temperatures..
'It's going to take some development,' said the executive, who asked to remain anonymous. 'What's going to happen on a 120-degree day in Phoenix? To achieve this goal, a new material must be developed. But it is possible.'
Lutz said a plastic molded body might be practical someday for an open sport-utility.
'You just let the rain pour in and it's got drain holes in the bottom,' he said.
Or, Lutz said, it could be applied to a very small roadster that could be molded in two halves and bonded together.
Chrysler would work with a consortium of materials and mold suppliers when pushing this new technology, Lutz said.
'We'll assemble them almost like a platform team, but we call it a virtual enterprise that we combine and orchestrate to drive this technology,' he said.