DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. has started experimenting with the idea of molded-in-color composites for exterior body panels on its cars.
So far the thermoplastic composite has been used only on the Start small-car concept, shown at the Beijing auto show in April. But the composite was part of a design study to look at ways to minimize the materials and refine its lines without the typical design cues, the company said.
The Start represents a "pared-down design," Ford design chief J Mays said last month at the Ward's Auto Interiors Conference in suburban Detroit.
While Mays stressed that there are no plans for production, he said the Start also shows Ford can make "gorgeous cars" that fit into growing needs for light, environmentally friendly small cars for the urban market.
"Across the world, more consumers are confronting issues including green technology, more-efficient use of available space, recycling and asking if big is necessarily better," Ford said in a statement.
The Start looks to use lightweight materials but make them look inviting to consumers. Its composite body panels wrap around an aluminum and steel body and an aluminum safety cage for a "sleek form" that the company calls sporty and efficient.
Using exterior composites would trim 308 pounds. And the composite roof could be removed, allowing buyers to customize the look of their cars.
Environmentally friendly plastics also would go inside the Start, with sisal fibers in structural plastics for interior panels. The seat design calls for them to be placed on a visible, molded composite shell.
"This is not about who can be the most creative," Mays said, "but who can deliver the most to the customer in terms of what he wants."