PARIS - French car parts and plastics group Compagnie Plastic Omnium SA is developing a range of new component systems - including front ends split into quarter modules, tailgate modules and roof systems.
Plastic Omnium has already previewed some of its new ideas with its Oscar (Omnium System Car) concept, based on a Renault Scenic platform. The front end of the car is built around quarter modules, which include headlamp housing, air filter, air duct, mudguard and heat exchanger.
The quarter-module concept offers more styling flexibility than traditional solutions, and can reduce weight by up to 30 percent while improving impact resistance, says Plastic Omnium. It can also cut repair costs.
New approaches to module development can offer more opportunities for product differentiation, said Jean-Louis Vaysse, Plastic Omnium's corporate research and innovation director.
Plastic Omnium also built an engine-bay module (or plenum cover module, as the company calls it) into its Oscar concept.
This pulls together the under-hood functions requiring frequent access - such as windscreen washer, cooling fluid, brake fluid, fuse box and battery - into one compartment.
The launch of the Audi A2 with a small, easy-access engine compartment, followed by Fiat's Ecobasic concept car with a similar system, have raised interest in engine-bay modules in the past few months, said Vaysse.
Engine-bay modules will also allow new approaches to the construction of the rest of the hood area, he added.
However, the Oscar project excluded one of the fastest growing exterior modules - rear-closure, or tailgate, modules.
Vaysse said there is growing customer interest in tailgate modules. Tailgate modules are less complex than front-end modules, and the architecture of the car does not have to be changed to introduce them.
In this area Plastic Omnium is working together with thermoset specialist Inoplast through a joint venture, Inoplastic Omnium, to develop modules for Renault, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and General Motors.
Plastic Omnium is also exploring the possibility of roof modules.
Since the $457 million sale of its interiors business to Visteon last June, Plastic Omnium has concentrated on fuel tanks and exterior modules.
Plastic Omnium sold its interiors business because it was not a leader in the sector. Vaysse said the trend toward cockpit modules would have meant a dramatic increase in investment.
In exterior automotive components the company reckons it has a 10 percent share of the world market. Plastic Omnium expects to report sales of over euro 1.3 billion for 1999, a rise of 11 percent on last year given a comparable group structure.
Despite the company's plans for new component systems, Vaysse said progress on modules would not be as fast as many people have predicted.
'Modules are more fashionable than before,' he said, and people are more open to modular ideas, but 'carmakers have their own experts. First, we have to convince them that we can do the architecture in an alternative way. But carmakers have their existing investment and people they want to use.'
Even if a carmaker decides to adopt a new approach, it can take four or five years before the innovation appears on production cars.
Vaysse said: 'By the time the competition has copied the idea, a decade can have passed.'