DETROIT - Two plastics manufacturers have formed a joint venture to challenge glassmakers for the supply of cars' main windows by early in the next century.
GE Plastics and Bayer AG set up their $40 million venture to develop abrasion-resistant coatings and process technologies. Progress in these areas is essential to substitute polycarbonate for glass in windows.
'We believe that this innovative alliance will transform automotive glazing,' said Klaus Seeger, general manager of Bayer AG's Plastics Business Group. The new venture, based near Detroit, brings together Bayer's efforts with organic modified coatings and GE Plastic's plasma-based coatings approach.
Douglas Nutter, president of the joint venture, said polycarbonate windows offer weight savings of up to 40 percent over conventional glass units. Polycarbonate is more expensive, but provides greater flexibility: incorporated into modules it would generally be cheaper, said Nutter.
Polycarbonate can be molded in two colors, or with attachments such as latch mechanisms. Glass, in contrast, needs an additional assembly stage to fix other components to it.
Polycarbonates already dominate in headlamp glazing.
GE Plastics and Bayer claim polycarbonates have additional safety, security and noise reduction benefits. 'Safety is one of the biggest drivers,' said Nutter. Polycarbonate is a very soft material that spreads the energy load in an impact, he said.
Comfort should also be improved by ultraviolet light reduction.
Carmakers want to see the concept proven over a long period with real consumers, said Nutter.
The two companies equipped five Dodge Caravans with polycarbonate side and rear windows. They have covered 160,000km over the past 11 months.