DETROIT - While some automakers and their biggest suppliers search for alternatives to vinyl for major pieces of vehicle interiors, compounder A. Schulman Inc. is taking aim at the interior's smaller parts.
The company's Invision material is a plastic that can be used as a one-for-one replacement for vinyl in arm rests, console lids and assist handles, said Jane Maselli, A. Schulman global marketing manager, at the SAE World Congress in Detroit.
Schulman will gear up for production this spring while meeting with automakers to get them on board with the resin.
Introductions for Invision will be geared for blow molding and extruding while Schulman also looks at ways to use it in larger parts.
Invision offers low gloss, low fogging and good scratch and mar resistance with a soft texture, Maselli said.
General Motors spurred the move away from vinyl two years ago when it announced that it wanted to find alternative materials for most interior surfaces.
The decision was based on consumer dislike of vinyl and GM's interest in smoother design, including elements such as a seamless instrument panel that hides the passenger airbag.
'Other than the initial costs (of new material development), there was no reason not to move away from PVC (polyvinyl chloride),' said David Mattis, a GM materials engineering specialist.
Since then, suppliers, including Delphi Automotive Systems Corp., have cited thermoplastic polyolefins as its top contender and have started production on instrument panels for a variety of automakers.
Textron Automotive Co. Inc. has produced urethane skin instrument panels.
'The demand for a soft touch, a soft feel, is moving up,' said Terry Anderson, director of r&d for Textron's Automotive Trim Division. 'Styling enhancements are the driver right now.'
But the research into instrument panels and door panels, Maselli said, is leaving smaller parts behind. Individual components, such as handles and lids, account for about 30 percent of the vinyl-coated surfaces inside a car that are targeted for a material shift. Schulman is not releasing details on its product, referring to it as a polyolefin elastomer. The company claims smaller molders that make individual components can continue to use existing tools, reducing the cost of a material shift. Still, Invision is priced about 12 percent higher than vinyl, the company said.
According to Textron's Anderson, all thermoplastic replacements for vinyl carry a price premium, with thermoplastic polyolefins running about twice the cost and thermoplastic polyurethane starting even higher.
But material costs are only part of the equation, he said. Adding an expensive raw material in a completed instrument panel only increases the production expense by $5.