By: Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®
The buzz at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show was electric—electric vehicles, that is.
For several years automakers have been all about fuel efficiency, and this year they have really stepped it up. Whether it’s a family vehicle poised to make its mass-market debut (Chevy Volt) or an exciting concept car (Nissan’s Ellure hybrid), today’s fuel-efficient autos have one thing in common: the innovative use of plastic materials.
A key to creating electric vehicles that can go the distance on a single charge is to reduce the load on the motor as much as possible. One of the ways automakers do this is by reducing overall vehicle weight through increased use of plastics. Plastic components such as body panels and bumpers are strong enough to maintain safety and light enough to help reduce a car’s overall weight, which helps increase energy efficiency and allows a single charge to last longer. Cars such as the Nissan Ellure take it a step further by using high-tech, reinforced plastic composites that are twice as strong as steel yet five times lighter, which allows designers to create truly exciting and fuel efficient vehicles.
And plastics aren’t only lightening the load of these hot new cars –- they’re helping them go farther on a single charge. Plastics actually play a vital role in improving the performance of electric car batteries. Lithium-polymer (polymer = plastic) batteries, such as the one in Kia’s new Optima hybrid, can be up to 10 percent more efficient than nickel-metal hydride batteries that are used in many popular gas-electric hybrid cars today.
Aerodynamics also play a huge role in fuel efficiency by reducing drag, allowing cars to travel more smoothly with less wind resistance. Almost all vehicles now utilize plastics to help create aerodynamic and sleek designs that aren’t possible with other materials, which further bolsters miles per gallon.
Car designers are also getting creative with recycled plastics. For example, Nissan’s Ellure uses what it calls “eco-suede,” an upholstery fabric made of 100 percent recycled plastic.
Seeing these cool innovations in action at the 2010 LA Auto Show has made me even more excited to see what automakers have in store for next year.
For more information about Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, visit www.laurenfix.com.