DETROIT - DaimlerChrysler is continuing its proposal to make thermoplastic car body panels but is widening its focus beyond injection molding to thermoforming and also is considering composites.
The carmaker says injection molding is the leading candidate to produce a thermoplastic-bodied car for the market sometime later this decade.
But its search for a top-quality finish also has prompted it to look at other processing options, said Thomas Moore, vice president for the Liberty & Technical Affairs research and engineering unit.
'We are looking more at thermoplastic injection molding but also thermoforming and even lightweight (sheet molding compound),' Moore said.
'Just because we're focusing on a current leading candidate's approach, that doesn't mean you ignore all the rest.
'If we could use some new blend of peanut butter and bananas that would perform, we'd use that.'
The automaker has created model cars with injection-molded bodies on an aluminum frame as part of its involvement in the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles.
The partnership encourages automakers to create an affordable family sedan that will get up to 80 miles per gallon of fuel.
DaimlerChrysler introduced its plastic-bodied ESX3 experimental model last year - a car that would get 72 miles per gallon with a diesel engine and cost about $7,000 more than the price of an equivalent car.
DaimlerChrysler must refine that concept if it wants to meet the goal of producing a vehicle by the 2007 model year, Moore said.
That means tweaking the diesel program to fit U.S. standards, reducing the cost difference and finding a way to get a good exterior to the vehicle.
Although SMC would solve some finish problems, Moore added: 'We're trying to make thermoplastics our first priority. We're looking for whatever material is ideal for our needs.'