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GM Says NO to PVC in Cars
If you have a moment, take the time to thank GM (perhaps through their web
page), acknowledging they may have had various resons, but emphasizing the
long-term environmental benefit. This could be the begining of the end of
PVC entering the auto scrap smelting furnaces (at doxzens of pounds of
chlorine/ car, more or less), and IT'S THE FIRST LARGELY SELF-INITIATED
PHASE-OUT OF OVC THAT I'M AWARE OF! -tony
Plastics News September 20, 1999 Page 1
GM banishing PVC in auto interior panels
By Joseph Pryweller PLASTICS NEWS STAFF
Warren, Mich--General Motors Corp. plans to become the first carmaker
to eliminate PVC on all its interior panels worldwide.
By 2004, the Detroit-based carmaker expects to use non-PVC materials
for all new vehicle programs, staff project engineer Maureen
Sobolewski said in an interview at GM's North American Operations
Interior Center in Warren.
The policy primarily affects covering skins for instrument panels and
door panels. According to several resin companies, PVC now captures
70-80 percent of the materials market for those parts in North
America and Europe.
The surprise move paves the way for the introduction of other
materials, such as thermoplastic olefins and polyurethane, in those
GM's decision was made partly to light a fire under parts and resin
suppliers to find alternatives, Sobolewski said.
"There has been some resistance in the past by resin suppliers," she
said. "It's been on the back burner in the development of products.
We've received greater commitments from them now, and we couldn't be
happier with it."
Performance issues helped force the move, including PVC's lack of
durability over a long period, according to William Shikany, director
of GM's interior center.
The carmaker found that PVC cracks, warps, and fades too quickly,
"It didn't take consumer studies to tell us that people didn't like
cracks in panels," Shikany said.
Other issues include windows fogging from the leaching of PVC
plasticizers, and PVC's weight disadvantage compared with other
materials, Shikany said.
But the issue was brought to a head by the inability of PVC to work
with seamless air-bag doors, said David Mattis, engineering director
for materials and appearance at the Warren center. Consumers are
starting to request doors with invisible seams that still can be
penetrated with an air bag during a crash, he said.
GM's rollout of non-PVC materials began in May for all future
vehicles. But the carmaker talked publicly about its plan for the
first time last week, even though the supply community has been
preparing for the change for months.
"If PVC was not already sourced in May for a vehicle's development,
we began expecting our supppliers to specify alternatives, "
Sobolewski said in a Sept. 15 interview. "It doesn't affect programs
midway into production. But there's still the option to make a
GM has planned the move since Jan. 28, when its interior council
approved a plan to restrict the use of PVC in newly designed vehicle
interiors, according to a GM memo obtained by Plastics News.
GM is attempting to rally its suppliers. On July 21, hundreds of
parts and resin suppliers were invited to GM's technical center in
Warren for "PVC Alternative Discovery Day." Sixteen booths were set
up and 20 supplier technical presentations were made on non-PVC
"It really opened our eyes that they were serious," said one
supplier. "it gave us the chance to show our best solutions, and we
knew they were listening."
Still, many parts and resin suppliers cautioned that TPOs and
urethanes have issues, too. While most avoided criticizing GM's
plan, they said that TPOs are as much as 40 percent more expensive
For the long term, GM is not willing to pay a major cost premium,
Sobolewski siad. It will be up to suppliers to absorb any
difference, she added.
Some suppliers believe that can happen albeit not easily.
"Sometimes, we can pass it through with savings from processing or by
recycling," said Jack Van Ert, director of advanced process
development with Southfield, Mich.-based interior-parts supplier Lear
Corp. "But I'm not going to say that will always cover the cost of
the material coming to us."
That issue temporarily could block a wholesale switch from PVC to
TPOs for some automakers, said Dennis Hiller, president of American
interior operations for Collins & Aikman Corp., of Troy, Mich. But
that could change as costs decrease, he said.
"I can't predict the time frame, but there could be more of a shift
by 2006 or 2007," Hiller said. "It will happen once the supply base
matures and the costs come down."
Even TPO suppliers were a bit dubious as to how well GM's plans will
work out in the short term.
"The OEMs can't just come beating down on everyone's head and
--crack!--say that we'll be price-competitive with new materials,"
said one resin supplier. "They have to find the best way to fit this
Andre Ferland, market development manager for Solvay Engineered
Polymers, said GM's move is a tremendous opportunity for his company.
But he cautioned that GM must be willing to make a greater change.
"It isn't just going to be PVC replacement," said Ferland, who is
based in Aurburn Hills, Mich. "Our biggest dilemma has been the
industry's stubbornness to try to force-fit new material technologies
into current designs and manufacturing practices. In essence, you
try to put a square peg in a round hole."
The move has resin suppliers scramblin for non-PVC solutions,
acording to several suppliers. Virtually every interior-parts
supplier now has products on the road or in development, supplier
"There are products out there ready to go," said Chris Thomas,
marketing development manager for Montell Polyolefins' automotive
group in Troy. "We're working closely with some Tier 1 [parts
suppliers] to line up some near-term models."
Currently, Dtroit-based GM uses TPO instrument-panel cover skins on
its new Saturn LS mid-sive cars and year-2000 Pontiac Bonneville.
The automaker recently introduced both models.
No other automaker has attempted such a material ban, though both
Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. have used non-PVC skins on
certain vehicles, according to executives with those companies.
"PVC is of interest to us," said Robert Kainz, senior manager of
pollution prevention and life-cycle programs with Auburn Hills-based
DaimlerChrysler. "By understanding its benefits and limitations, we
can make better business decisions."
But only a handful of other vehicles in production--most of them in
Europe--use plastic materials other than PVC in those specific
applications. Several of GM's Adam Opel and Saab models in Eurpoe
use thermoplastic olefin cover stock.
The decision is another blow to the bow of the PVC industry. Some
toy companies stopped using PVC in children's teethers last year, and
some medical companies have announced they are stepping up efforts to
find alternative resings for products such as blood bags.
GM produced 7.56 million cars and trucks globally in 1998, according
to figures provided by Automotive News, a sister publication of
Members of the Washington-based Vinyl Institute discussed the issue
Sept. 9 with GM officials. While the discussion was amicable, GM
officials' minds were not changed, said Mark Sofman, director of
issues management for the association. From a performance and cost
standpoint, PVC will be difficult to replace, Sofman said.
To GM, PVC's performance and weight problems made it vulnerable. The
automaker also wants to simplify materials use with common resins for
"We want to commonize and globalize," Mattis said. "It's a lot
easier to execute production decisions and develop technology when
you're working with fewer materials."
"It's a tremendous boost to TPO suppliers," said Rober Eller,
president of plastic consulting firm Rober Eller & Associates Inc. of
Akron, Ohio. "This move brings U.S. and European suppliers closer
together for global positioning. It's a major development."
The change could also provide a major charge to the movement to
recycle interior autmotive parts.
PVC parts must be separated from olefinic materials before they are
recycled, adding cost to the process. The recycling issue makes TPOs
a prime candidate at GM to replace PVC, Sobolewski said.
GM's policy coulc be short-lived according to Bruce Barden, vice
president of research and development with PVC sheet suppplier
Sandusky Ltd. of Sandusky, Ohio. In 1978, the company attempted to
move from PVC to urethane for seat covers only to step away from
that soon after, he said.
"The PVC issue is overblow, and [environmental groups] have too much
impact on companies with it," Barden said. "PVC is one of the best
polymers out there for long life and low cost. But if this is what
GM wants to do, we will find a way to supply it."
Suppliers are being forced to adapt quickly, according working with
"There's a very solid movement toward non-PVC materials with
automakers," said Timothy Jackson, director of automotive interior
sales with Acton, Mass.-based Haartz Corp., a maker of both PVC and
TPO cover stock. "We're certainly thinking this will happen, and
we'll be prepared."
This year, the company invested $7 million to expand its plant and
add equipment to extrude olefin roll stock.
The company also is providing TPO cover stock to Dearborn Mich.-based
supplier Visteon Automotive Systems for the instrument panel of a