At a time when fuel efficiency standards are on the rise, plastics are helping cars travel longer distances on less fuel.
For years automakers labored to meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, regulations first set in place by Congress in the 1970s to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles on American roads. Current regulations call for cars and light trucks to travel an average of 54.5 miles per gallon of gasoline by the year 2025.
To help meet these standards, car manufacturers are turning to plastic parts, which match the strength of other materials, but at a fraction of the weight. According to the American Chemistry Council, plastics make up about 50 percent of the volume of new cars but only 10 percent of the weight.
Petroleum-based polymers, including those manufactured by ExxonMobil, are already widely used in braking systems, body panels, and even in the batteries powering electric cars. However, by 2020 cars are expected to contain an average of 350 kg, or about 770 pounds, of plastics, up 75 percent from the 200 kg (440 lbs) used today.