NOVI, Mich.—If there is one aspect of the automotive industry that is consistent, it is that "change is unavoidable."
That's what Eugenio Toccalino, global marketing director of transportation and advanced polymers at global chemical giant DowDuPont Inc., said during a presentation at the recent Plastics and Rubber in Automotive conference.
"We read about the big announcements from OEMs in terms of huge investments to retool themselves and become an [autonomous vehicle] or a hybrid [electric vehicle] provider," he said.
Follow that up with news about technology companies like Google affiliate Waymo L.L.C. that have made substantial investments to be a top player in self-driving vehicles and new business models for shared mobility as well as bold statements like the "the internal combustion engine is dead," Toccalino explained.
And it's these sort of news headlines—"change is coming whether you are ready or not, so you better have a strategy"—that are compelling plastics companies, specifically materials suppliers like DowDuPont, or the soon-to-be new DuPont, to prepare for these big changes by developing products that provide answers to OEMs and their suppliers.
"Growth doesn't come for free," Toccalino said of the approaching challenges and disruption for automotive and materials.
Later this year, Toccalino will continue to work in the transportation and advanced polymers business unit for the new DuPont, as DowDuPont prepares to separate into three independent companies. The "new DuPont," as he referred to it, announced in September 2018 how it would tackle the growing market for electric and hybrid-electric vehicles with the launch of its Ahead initiative.
Ahead, or Accelerating Hybrid-Electric Autonomous Driving, targets the use of adhesives, high-performance elastomers, engineered thermoplastics, fluids or specialty lubricants and electronic materials for lightweighting, battery pack components and assembly, thermal management and safety, electric motors, powertrains and chassis, electrical applications and support infrastructure such as charging stations.
"When we think about the car of the future, there is going to be a totally new set of challenges on the material lab or on the engineering department for an OEM, Tier 1 or us," he said, later describing this car of tomorrow as a "smartphone on wheels."
Thermal management is going to emerge as a main requirement for materials as the auto industry moves toward battery electric vehicles, he said. This means fire safety, too, when you have a 600-volt battery that makes up the floor of the vehicle.
Noise, vibration and harshness properties are another key area for materials, he said, as the car of the future transitions from a driving environment to a working or lounging environment.
"The tolerance for any sort of squeak, rattle or noise is much lower," Toccalino said. "You don't have the engine to mask that."
In addition, lightweighting, which has long helped the industry meet requirements for fuel efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions, will become more important to get extended range, lower vehicle weight and reduce cost overall. Connectivity, he said, will require the creation of more jobs on the electronics side in automotive and for the necessary infrastructure.
In terms of shared mobility, durability will become more important as different passengers hop in and out more frequently and the vehicles will be running for longer periods of time—perhaps as much as 23 hours a day, Toccalino said.
At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, chemical company BASF Corp. was also looking ahead at challenges facing materials in an electric and/or autonomous vehicle future.
Dalia Naamani-Goldman, BASF's market segment manager for transportation and performance materials, said she is seeing more and more "electrification of functions" in vehicles, where certain operations like a parking brake that were once mechanical functions are now electric.
"Any time you're moving to electronic components, you need materials that can withstand voltage, that can withstand—in the case of electrification—high-voltage for the potential of flammability," she said during an interview at the auto show, adding that future models of electric vehicles are expected to have 1,000 volts. "You need special materials that can enable each of these components."
With autonomous driving and the introduction of more electric vehicles, components will be smaller and there will be much more of them, said Mark Szendro, BASF's marketing director for transportation and performance materials.
"You will have more radar, lidar and sensors in the vehicle that will definitely support the growth of plastics in each vehicle," he explained.
Naamani-Goldman said she is also seeing an increased need for multifunctional materials that will continue to grow in the long term.
"Right now, there's a lot of metal that's used in a lot of these housings: metal for getting heat out, metal for shielding electromagnetic signals. We're working toward developing polymers that already have some of that functionality built into them," Naamani-Goldman said. "We can use a plastic, and it automatically will get some of the heat out."
For DuPont, the strategy is to group these different types of challenges and look at the kinds of materials that are required to solve them. That means the potential emergence of new materials with improved heat resistance and that are electrically friendly, have good noise-dampening capabilities, are long-lasting and easy to clean, and can be used as a substitution for heavier materials.
"All of this challenging change in hybrid, electric, autonomous driving, shared mobility, is not going to happen without collaboration across different value chains," Toccalino said, highlighting key players such has the OEM, Tier 1, Tier 2 and aftermarket suppliers, as well as other companies in the plastics and electronics industries.
"Essentially, what [DuPont] brings to bear is a set of capabilities that touch different points of the value chain," he said. "The key point is developing new materials and developing them much faster."