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Gloss Plastic Could Eliminate Auto Painting 320

customs writes "There is a new plastic out from GE that covers plastic surfaces with a really good sheen. It's more resistant to scratches and random chemicals compared to conventional paint. It's actually a .5 mm polymer called Sollx; the Segway was the first semi-mass-produced product to use it, it has slender two tone fenders. Kinda cool. Auto painting is the industries largest manufacturing expense, and this could be what they're looking soon as the price comes down."
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Gloss Plastic Could Eliminate Auto Painting

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  • WEE (Score:3, Funny)

    by blindcoder ( 606653 ) <> on Friday February 07, 2003 @11:54AM (#5250520) Homepage
    Finally I'll be able to crash into my buddies without having to pay for repainting my car each time I do so! :D
  • by BgJonson79 ( 129962 ) <srsmith@al u m> on Friday February 07, 2003 @11:55AM (#5250521)
    Does using painted sheet metal offer any kind of added structural strength to the car? Or is it so little that a strong frame with a polymer outside would do as well in a crash?
    • Considering that a current metal car door can be dented by a slow-moving baseball, no. The impact of a crash is absorbed by the frame, not the metal panelling.
      • I thought the point was that shell would crumple as it absorbed energy, thus reducing energy transfered to the occupants. And keep your head from flying through the windshield.

        Or something like that.
      • by march ( 215947 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @01:10PM (#5251270) Homepage
        The impact of a crash is absorbed by the frame, not the metal panelling.

        Not entirely true. Crumple zones are designed to absorb the energy of an impact rather than transmit it to the passengers.

        This design was taken from high performance race cars (like Indy and F1, not so much NASCAR) where the cars appear to disintegrate upon impact.

        Dispersion of energy is one of the best protections a passenger can have. This is what an airbag does. The energy of the impact gets disapated into the air filled bag of large volume.

        So, a rigid frame may help handling, but it does not help accidents from causing bodily damage.
    • by sczimme ( 603413 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:03PM (#5250616)

      You could ask Saturn []. They have building cars that way for ~10 years.
    • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:24PM (#5250811) Homepage Journal
      Most every part in the car contributes to the structural integrity of the vehicle.

      Metal door skins and fenders are part of this overall structure. Even the windshield is part of the equation.

      Of course if you switched to plastic ( as Saturn has done or the old fieros for example ) then you design around that...

      Saw on TV commercials for this very thing recently, but they were touting lexan based panels..

      • For ANY vehicle, metal body parts add strength. Even non-unibody cars experience a monocoque effect.

        For those who don't know, what a monocoque design basically does is convert one kind of force into another. Strictly speaking a monocoque design uses the outer skin of the car as a structural piece, but consider the case of a car door. Stress is transferred into and out of the door through the hinges and the latch. In the case of (for example) a C4 corvette, if you open the door and jack up the car from the center or the ends you can cause permanent frame damage! The car is intended to rest on the wheels when at rest, or to have the doors closed at all other times. Jacking the car must be done either at the wheels or at the four appropriate places on the frame. AT THE SAME TIME. Jacking up a vette to change a tire is best done (by a AAA guy so you have someone to sue) with the doors closed. Realistically you won't damage the car just jacking up one wheel enough to change a tire, Chevrolet isn't THAT clueless. But close.

        Anyway, what I'm getting across is that there's no big structural member in the door. All the force gets transmitted through the skin of the door. The pushing force gets spread through the end of the door, and reaches a crease. (Any intentional crease in a door is called a "fold line" - if it's 90 degrees which it usually is at such places, it's called a flange.) A fold/crease/flange is work-hardened, so it can handle more stress than unhardened parts of the skin. The stress is transmitted through the work-hardened flange and into the skin of the door. This serves to translate it from whatever kind of force it is, which would normally want to deform the (reinforced) flat plane of the door, into a shearing force (pay attention, this is the important part of a monocoque) which means that the stress is distributed throughout the sheet metal starting at the point at which the stress is transferred INTO the flat plane.

        That is the entire basis of monocoque design in a nutshell. Obviously there's a lot more to it in practice but that's the theory. If you look at the suspension links on a japanese car you see most of them are just metal folded around a shape to provide this effect. You can see it in its simplest form in a piece of box or u-channel from the hardware store. Even a piece of pipe which you are trying to bend from the ends is resisting as a monocoque would. If you put your knee in the middle, you expose the weakness of a monocoque design, which is that stress put into the system from points other than intended load points tends to destroy the design. Monocoque designs only handle stresses for which they are designed.

    • Take a sheet of waxed paper. Grease it up with petroleum jelly. Now spray paint it. Do a good job, adding several coats.

      You'll now find that you can simply peel the paint film from the paper backing. You will also now find that paint has no structural integrity whatsoever.

      The primary function of painting metal is to prevent oxidation. Rust. It's secondary function is the purely cosmetic one of letting you change the color of the object. Note that the DeLoren, made of stainless steel, was not even available stock with paint on it.

    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday February 07, 2003 @01:36PM (#5251547) Homepage Journal
      As I say in this comment [] it makes a big difference.

      You might be interested to know that the windshield ends up absorbing/transferring to the roof up to 40% of the forces in a collision. This is the real reason it is illegal to drive around with a cracked windshield, not visual issues. If it were a visual issue, it would be illegal to drive around with a dirty windshield.

      You can build your sacrificial crumple zones inside the body (in the front, the part of the body which the fenders are bolted to are called underfenders) but then you're just going to add weight. The fact that the skin of the car is load-bearing and part of the crumple zone just means that you don't need to add as much crap specifically and ONLY for the purpose of crash absorption under the body.

  • Old News (Score:3, Informative)

    by mgrant ( 96571 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @11:55AM (#5250522) Homepage
    Haven't you seen the TV commercial with the out-of-work auto painting robots playing cards? It's been airing for weeks.
  • Modding (Score:2, Funny)

    by levik ( 52444 )
    But the main question is, how soon can I get a souped up tower case "painted" with the stuff?

    Would look cool with a window and neon lights.

  • by diablobynight ( 646304 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @11:56AM (#5250533) Journal
    What are the affects of the sun on this plastic. Because of the construction of most polymers, ultravolet radiation ussually has terrible affects on them. And how do you wax a piece of plastic? Will the whole world suddenly be driving Saturns?
    • by Codex The Sloth ( 93427 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @11:58AM (#5250560)
      At the bottom of the article, it states that the coating doesn't fade:

      It never fades. Sunlight's ultraviolet rays trigger a chemical reaction in the Sollx film, forming a protective outer coating that won't decay.

      I'd be more concerned about scratches -- how do I touchup a film?
      • with more film!!
      • The way it's described in the article, you don't touch it up, you replace it. It's like a "dip" process to get the "paint" on, so maybe you sand it down and re-dip it... not enough information yet.

        Last year, my Saturn and I were rear-ended during stopped traffic on the local highway. Basically, you have a polymer (fibreglass of some sort) panel underneath, with an enamel glaze on the exterior. The person doing the repairs explained to me at the time that the glaze is "baked" on, so it hardens & becomes shiny. When the panel is damaged, the glaze discolors along the scratch lines (and you end up with white streaks that cannot be removed), or in my case, the glaze peels back like a ripped plastic bag, down to the panel (which was a dark grey in my case). Once torn, the glaze cannot be relayered like paint can, so you have to have the part replaced, and they send the old part back to be re-processd, most likely junked.

        "Saturn pioneered the use of thermoplastic systems in body panels with the introduction of the industry's first quality, high production thermoplastic door panel ten years ago." More info here [].
      • "how do I touchup a film?"

        Whatever you do, don't take advice from George Lucas on that. He has funny ideas about touching up film. Next thing you, you'll have a co-pilot intended as the plucky comic relief.

        On the flip side, though, the lack of passenger side airbag on your car will heal your soul.
    • I hate to tell you this, but paint is basically a brush on plastic coating these days.
    • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:15PM (#5250724)
      Well, not to belabor an obvious point, but you wax plastic with. . . wax. Just as you do paint, wooden furniture, unpainted metal, every kind of flooring material you can think of (including plastics) and a host of other products and materials.

      And for the same reasons. It adds a sacrificial layer that erodes instead of the base material. Prevents oxidation.Provides a smoother surface (racing cars are waxed for this reason, the aero drag of a waxed car is measurably lower than an unwaxed one), and as result, entirely coincidentally, gives a glossy sheen that some people find attractive.

      People already wax plastic all the time. Hell, I wax my Lexan R/C car bodies. Makes 'em look great.


  • by mikeee ( 137160 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @11:56AM (#5250540)
    The real question, of course, is when this will be available for PC cases.
  • CDs? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ergonal ( 609484 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @11:58AM (#5250556)
    I know nothing about CDs or plastic, so correct me if I'm way off base, but "resistant to scratches" sounds like it'd be good for CDs/DVDs?..
  • awsome!!! (Score:2, Interesting)

    add this to the Ideas tha GM has for future fuel cell cars design and it looks like fuel cell cars might be cheaper than cars today!!!
  • Materials science (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:00PM (#5250571)
    Has given us Teflon, Kevlar, Lexan and host of other trademarked (but quality) materials. The impact of this tech tends to be below the radar of the average person, but is vastly important in the cost and quality of manufactured goods. The use of other materials such as titanium, aluminum and magnesium in objects traditionally made from steel or die-cast alloy has given us lighter and stronger engines, laptops and spacecraft not to mention medical devices.
    • by Havokmon ( 89874 ) < minus poet> on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:22PM (#5250797) Homepage Journal
      Has given us Teflon, Kevlar, Lexan ....The impact of this tech tends to be below the radar of the average person

      No kidding.. my kids will probably never know what trying to clean a non-teflon coated pot is like.

      I don't know what Lexan is, but I work for Valeo (Fitness Gloves/Belts, and Industrial Safety), and we use Kevlar threads in some of our Material Handling gloves to give them longer life.. Things just don't fall apart as much as they used to. I just hope my kids don't grow up thinking this stuff was invented in a garage, and everyone needs free access immediately. Some companies spend millions on this research, and they deserve to make their money back - and then some. Only after a reasonable amount of time should it become public domain.

      • Re:Materials science (Score:4, Informative)

        by shdragon ( 1797 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @01:04PM (#5251199) Homepage Journal
        I don't know what Lexan is,

        Lexan is a bullet resistant plastic, similar to bullet proof glass but lighter, easier to mold, and more resistant to penetration. A few years ago, I made a skateboard out of the stuff just to have a clear skateboard. Now, it weighed in excess of 25 lbs. and was completely impractical but it looked good, and couldn't be shattered. I agree with you, the people who come up with these materials deserve to be compenstated fairly for their effort and hard work.

      • Lexan is some companies fancy word (Nalgene I think) for polycarbonate.
      • Re:Materials science (Score:4, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday February 07, 2003 @01:58PM (#5251769) Homepage Journal
        The sibling posts to this one, together, ALMOST explain what Lexan is. Lexan is an advanced polycarbonate which can be worked like acrylic. It is more elastic than any other polycarbonate I am aware of; You can bend a quarter inch thick sheet of lexan around a cylinder of about eight inches in diameter without permanently altering its shape. It has nearly unparalleled ability to pass visible light (amongst other polycarbonates) and is more scratch resistant. As others have mentioned it is extremely resistant to deformation; where other plastics tend to shatter due to sudden impact, Lexan tends to take that moment to deform.

        Lexan is commonly used in automotive racing applications; GT1 and Formula cars (as well as slower machines) sometimes use Lexan windshields (depending on the race circuit's rules) because:

        1. It is about the same price as glass, assuming you can get glass in the right size.
        2. It is insanely easier to work with than glass; You need nothing more than a jigsaw or scroll saw to make large or small curved cuts in Lexan. It can be more or less treated as acrylic (except more durable) for the purposes of working it.
        3. It will absorb dramatically more direct impact than glass of any type.
        4. When normal glass is hit by a large heavy object at high speed, it shatters into both small and large pieces. When safety glass is hit likewise, it shatters into a million zillion pieces, none of which are extremely sharp. When lexan is hit like that, it deforms and springs back without breaking; It may be chipped, scratched, or scuffed. This can be sanded out (with first 500 if necessary, then 1000 and maybe 1500 grit wet sandpaper) and then buffed with a grinder equipped with a cloth/yarn wheel and buffing compound.
    • Not if you're Amish (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MacAndrew ( 463832 )
      I don't mean to be a smart aleck -- well, maybe a little -- but do want to mention that the ever-increasing complexity of our lives is often good but not always necessary. If I could, I would like to get rid of my car altogether -- I'm no Luddite, but I think a lot of our technological improvements are aimed at correcting the problems introduced by our other technological improvement and distract us from fundamental goals. For example, we have for years been stalled with inefficient and polluting engines whose lifespan has been increased by ingenious inventions of emission control, electronic ignition, and so on, rather than inventing anew with fuel cells and the like (which are fundamentally not a new technology).

      With respect to the improvement of paint, it is a wonderful idea that if successful would avoid a lot of waste in paint's first mission, preserving the vulnerable material underneath. But why don't we find ways to get rid of the sheet metal altogether? Saturn is the only one to have taken it really seriously, and I imagine part of that was the advantage of starting as a new company (yes, as a spinoff of a very old one, but you know what I mean -- UAW didn't even hold their new plant to the standard rules, and that was revolutionary!). They haven't beat the problems, but at least they've tried.

      Here's a analogy I heard from a professor: Back in the days of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI used to hold up every year a graph of the steady increase in their interdiction of interstate stolen cars. Problem was, interstate theft was increasing even faster. Then Detroit went to ignition steering wheel locks, eliminating the simple way to steal a car by hot wiring. The rate of theft plummeted. Sometimes changing something fundamental is more efficient that layering on additional layer of protection. (I hope the analogy held, but you get the idea.)
  • by Cappy Red ( 576737 )
    Metal dents, and when plastic doesn't bounce, it cracks. Even when the price comes down, it's still going to be fun to replace an entire section of the car for a crack.
  • by Limburgher ( 523006 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:00PM (#5250583) Homepage Journal
    like some sort of combination fake-vomit/sex toy device. THAT would be gross plastic. Not much protection, though. :)
  • by Xerithane ( 13482 ) <xerithane@nerd[ ] ['far' in gap]> on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:01PM (#5250584) Homepage Journal
    Regardless what the submitter says, the article says that car manufacturers aren't looking at it because plastic is 3x more expensive than galvanized steal.

    When plastic comes down in price, then it will be here. The thing that I don't like about this is it seems that it has to be in place during the molding process. This would mean that if you were to ever scratch it, or something along those lines, you'd have to replace the entire piece. Unless they developed a patch kit for it, which seems like the patch would be weaker than the rest of the area because it wasn't present in the mold...

    Of course, a plastic fender with this on it would probably be cheap because they have already reduced the cost of plastic below that of steal. The thermochromatic aspect of it would be cool though, but I'd prefer it to be uniform. I wouldn't want the rest of the car to be black and my hood to be red... that would just look weird.
    • reduced the cost of plastic below that of steal

      Can you really reduce anything below the cost of steal? ;)
    • too expensive? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by oliphaunt ( 124016 )
      one word: corvette.

      There doesn't seem to be any shortage of those on the roads, and this picture [] is an example of what happens when you bump into someone while driving your big fiberglass manhood-enhancer.
  • My father-in-law works for a large plastics company, maybe this means his stock will go up - Maybe he'll pass some along for my wife and I.

    I hope that doesn't sound too greedy, does it?

    I can dream, its not like my own stock options in my own company are going up...
  • by chrysrobyn ( 106763 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:01PM (#5250589)

    I got out of graduate school in 1999 and found myself in the market for a new car. I didn't shop around, I thought I knew what I wanted -- a new 2000 Saturn SC2, black. I found that dream car sitting on the lot, and bought it (well, a bank helped me).

    So, here I am, 4 years later, the not-so-proud owner of a blackberry (purple in bright sunlight, black at night) Saturn, having learned so much about the downfalls of plastic. I'll never buy another Saturn. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't have bought a Saturn in the first place. The sales pitch says this: when you get into an accident, plastic body panels are much easier to replace than metal ones. They don't say that every little ding and scrape you get (ever park next to an SUV that doesn't have enough repsect for drivers of smaller cars that they open their doors until they hit the next car over? Ever find a shopping cart resting against your car?) will leave you with a white mark. In a white car, that may not be bad, but when this car is all newly washed and shiney, it's got ugly white scratches on the sides and rear fender. For some reason, metal cars don't seem to have this problem as much.

    Gloss plastic. In practice, does this mean that it'll stick as well as paint does to my plastic Saturn? Or will it have the staying power of paint on metal? I don't care about the press articles on it, I want to know what the field tests say in the hands of real people.

    • Oxidation is fun (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:26PM (#5250830)
      In a white car, that may not be bad, but when this car is all newly washed and shiney, it's got ugly white scratches on the sides and rear fender. For some reason, metal cars don't seem to have this problem as much.

      No metal cars just rust instead. Much better...

      There's a drawback to any material. Plastic scrapes , steel rusts, aluminum corrodes, etc. Plastic is no exception. The "dent resistant" panels work but you can't hammer them either. They're durable, not indestructible. And it's easy enough to touch them up.

      I drive a Saturn and it's a fine vehicle. (1993 SC2) Fun to drive (for its price), good fuel mileage, low insurance, very reliable and it isn't offensive to the eyes either. I don't have the problems with the paint the previous poster described either. When washed it looks pretty good for a car with 120,000 miles on it. I expect it to last me another 60-80,000 miles too. Not much more you can ask for really.
      • The paint-that-isn't technology of course bring Saturn to mind, and I mentioned them in another post. But I don't know much about them since shopping about 5 years ago (problem then was than it was a bit too small).

        As an experienced Saturn driver who has perhaps hit something or been hit; or even if not, does the plastic sacrifice much in a collision, say to penetration? I couldn't get a satisfactory answer.

        Also, it seemed that the panels were a lot noisier compared to steel, once they finally started welding the later. The noise was particularly dramatic on full-bore acceleration. Steel's rust resistance also improved a great deal over the years -- many of us will remember when rusted-through car doors were commonplace, a problem largely due I'm told to bad drainage.

        I complement Saturn for doing a lot of things new, even as a spinoff of a company far more sluggish. I don't think they're there yet, but then they're the Henry Ford of body panels.
        • I have a 1997 SL2 and it's just as quiet as the other small cars we drove around the time we bought it.

          Here's some collision photos [], though they're higher impact then you're referring to, I think. For small impacts the panels pop right back, though you can scratch the paint.

          Unfortunately, Saturn is integrating themselves more and more with GM. There's even talk of a non-polymer panel vehicle in a couple years. :(
        • I don't think the Saturn S-series noise issue (and you're right, they're loud during acceleration) has anything to do with body panels - they just have a loud engine and limited acoustical damping for it.

          My wife's '96 started purple and still is, other than some white scuff marks on the bumpers.
        • Saturn isn't really a separate company. Saturn Corporation is really a sales unit. The actual *design* and *production* of Saturn vehicles is done by General Motors North American Vehicle Operations. Saturns are produced in a separate plant in Springhill, TN., yes, but the employees of that plant don't work for Saturn, they work for GM. The vehicle development work (that is the design and engineering) is done primarily at GM's Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. (I should know, I used to work there ;) ).

      • No metal cars just rust instead. Much better...

        Metal-bodied cars do not just rust. Your typical surface scratch into a base layer of wax or paint should never just rust in a modern car (ie door dings) if properly cleaned and touched-up. Sure, many vintage cars do not benefit from today's modern galvonization techniques and tend to rot, but you should never have rust problems in a modern car unless its been in a serious accident. This is why almost all modern cars come with a 10-year 100,000 mile (or even unlimited mileage) rust warranty. The manufacturers know this -- they wouldn't bet the bank on it otherwise. I'm afraid that Saturns that have been crashed will also experience rust problems as the internal components are made of steel (the frame, floorpan, etc) and will rust if bent or damaged...just like on any other car.

        In a minor fender-bender, provided that there is no frame damage, if you take your steel-bodied car to a competent body shop -- it will not rust. Furthermore, most manufacturers have moved to fiberglass and painted plastic for the lower body-panels...which also do not rust.

        Yes, the Saturn approach is innovative, and I'm glad that it has treated you well...but like you said, every material has its drawbacks.

    • It's planned obsolescence. Metal parts might rust but plastic parts will degrade. They make them out of cheap shit that gets UV damaged and light volitile evaporation embrittled in five years or so. Ever seen an older plastic car? Kick it and see how bouncy the pannels are, if there are any pannels left. Oh yeah, just try to buy that custom injection molded plastic part after five years of so. Ha!

      I've got a 30 year old VW van in my garage. It had been trashed up north and had extensive rusting. No problem, because where the rust was not the material was sound. I replaced the front axle and riveted in a bunch of sheet metal painted it up a little and it's as good looking as it ever was. In fact, I like the patches. Try doing that with a plastic car. Can you even paint over that surface? Doubt it.

      Tell me about a car with a composite monocoque frame at half the cost of my steel vehicle and I might listen your speel on plastic pannels.

    • I got out of graduate school in 1999 and found myself in the market for a new car. I didn't shop around, I thought I knew what I wanted -- a new 2000 Saturn SC2, black. I found that dream car sitting on the lot, and bought it (well, a bank helped me).

      UGH! 1999 was a bad year for car paint, for all small cars.

      That's anout the time that environmental regulations made traditional caustic paint impossible to use, and paint manufactureres coulden't make the good stuff inexpensive.

      Hence, all sub $25,000 cars, with darker paint, around that time have cruddy paint.

      Case in point - My '92 Olds has beautifull paint and it's 192,000 miles and 11 years old, I've seen (same model) '98 versions with washed-out chaulky colors.

      It's also not a GM thing, my Dad '99 Toyota Camery (built in Japan, with a J in the VIN) is looking rather dark-purplish in direct sun. It's alost a peice of junk, but that's another story.

    • I don't think there is much to worry about... powder coating seems to be a similar thing, although the process of applying it is completely different, and powder coating is considered one of the toughest finishes out there. Powder coating is where they take a fine polymer powder, stick it to metal parts by applying a small electrical charge, and then baking the parts in an oven. The heat "sets" the powder and bonds it to the metal. I would imagine adhesion between this stuff and other plastics would be even better since they are more similar materials.

      Also, I think you got a bum Saturn... I had a dark red 1994 and it looked nearly new when I finally got rid of it at 140K miles. It had lots of major scrapes and dings in it's life... never needed more than a little polishing to remove the worst. I think the base plastic was black on mine, though.

  • Then this should have been submitted under the "useless waste of VC by high profile scam artist" department.
  • Durability? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by duncan7 ( 247274 )
    Sure, it's scratch-resistant, which would be pretty handy, given the fact that the width of the average parking space hasn't kept pace with the expanding girth of the average car. Seems like my car picks up a ding a day.

    Wonder how it holds up to sunlight, though. There are plenty of scalded-looking cars driving around here in Georgia, and many more further south and west. Somehow, my sense is that combination of plastic + UV would be an issue.

    What about bodywork? Can it be done? Beyond their dent-resistance threshold, do the panels deform or fail? (Didn't Audi have to set up its own network of trusted body shops before the introduction of the latest aluminum-bodied A6, then offer free flatbed service to new owners, b/c typical body shops didn't have the right equipment and expertise?)
  • Thermocromic fun (Score:3, Interesting)

    by burgburgburg ( 574866 ) <<splisken06> <at> <>> on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:05PM (#5250625)
    If you had tiny temperature controls on the interior surface of the car, you could change the color of the car at the flick of the switch.
  • Repair Bills (Score:3, Insightful)

    by awitod ( 453754 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:06PM (#5250631)
    So, it is more resistant to minor damage. But if it's a film applied to the whole part, what happens if you do damage it?

    The nice thing about paint is that you can patch a small area. This sounds like you'd have to replace the entire damaged part.

    If so, it has the potential to slightly decrease the original price and really increase the maintenance and repair costs.

    I'm not sure that constitutes an improvement.
  • by MongooseCN ( 139203 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:06PM (#5250633) Homepage
    I still want transparent aluminum for my truck. Then I could carry my pet whale around.
  • by Unknown Poltroon ( 31628 ) <> on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:06PM (#5250634)
    But dosent "scratch resistant" mean "Incredibly hard to fix once it has been scratched"?
  • Auto painting is the industries largest manufacturing expense, and this could be what they're looking soon as the price comes down

    Sure - as soon as the cost comes down!

    The biggest cost in solar power is the cost of collectors, so new material X could be what they're looking soon as the price comes down.

    The biggest cost in overclocking is the cost of decent coolers, so liquid nitrogen cooling could be what they're looking soon as the price comes down.

    The biggest cost in electric vehicles is the fancy batteries , so fuel cells could be what they're looking soon as the price comes down.

    Is it me?
  • is knowing that I can get a segway in shiny bright purple.
  • by Markee ( 72201 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:07PM (#5250651)

    The article mentions a car that is already available which has full plastic parts. More info can be found at the Smart website []. I drive one of these, and I have bumped into obstacles while parking several times. Unlike a metal body, the plastic panel just springs back into shape after a bump. With a metal body, it would have been damaged visibly.

    Other Smart drivers reported that after a crash, the car had no visible damge while the invisible parts beneath the body panels had been damaged severely, but the robust body panel had been hiding the damage.

    I can really recommend these cars. They are the ultimate opposite to an SUV. 2.49 m long (7.5 feet!), 695 kg gross weight, can turn on a dime... wonderful.

    • by phorm ( 591458 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:15PM (#5250722) Journal
      Would you really want a car that "hides the damage" though. I mean, it would be fine for minor dents, etc... but in the case of major damage it could be a safety risk. I remember last time I was in an accident (rear-ended), the insurance company paid for repairs, but I found a lot of hidden problems afterwords that I'm sure were related to the accident but not overly visible, thus not fixed. One of these included damage the metal brackets linking the bumper and tow-bars onto the frame of the car... which resulted in my bumper coming partly off next time I hooked up something to tow, not good.

      Do you really want a bunch of damaged metal and loose welds hiding under a "seemingly" clean plastic coating?
  • Well (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Marvel Man ( 593480 )
    What occurs if you want to change the color of your car. Apparently paining it would be a sin if this material is supposed to replace paint. So that means you need to have the entire plastic surface removed and a new one put on?
    • What do you do now when you want to change the color of your celphone?

      Paint it? Or just snap the not-very-structural covers off and replace them?
  • ...theoretically capable of "thermochromic" effects that change the color with the temperature...

    Reminds me of the old hypercolor shirts in approximately the early 90s that changed color when you wore them. I could see this feature appealing to a younger generation.

  • by mog ( 22706 ) <> on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:08PM (#5250670)
    So basically, it will be cheap enough to be wonderful as soon as it's not so expensive. Hrrmmm...
  • Molting? (Score:2, Funny)

    GE Plastics claims that the material is also theoretically capable of "thermochromic" effects that change the color with the temperature -- imagine your Lexus molting from red to black as you head from the desert to the mountains.

    Uh, doesn't molting mean shedding skin or other outer coating? I can't think of one Lexus owner who wants to imagine their car molting. Giant strips of Lexus skin all over the road! Ewwwwwww!!!

    • Re:Molting? (Score:2, Funny)

      by stratjakt ( 596332 )
      Of course they meant morphing. Apparantly no "journalists" (read PR drones) proofread their copy these days. Here I thought it was just a slashdot phenomenon.
  • Oh boy! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Edball ( 611096 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:09PM (#5250673)
    "The fenders are coated with a 0.5-millimeter polymer layer called Sollx, a new chemical "film" developed by General Electric (GE) that covers plastic surfaces like Saran Wrap."

    Neat! Now i can complement my bad tint job with an equally bubbled paint job.. Yay!

  • "Classic" painting uses a lot of nasty chemicals, but is the production of this new plastic in any way safer?
  • by pjdoland ( 99640 ) <pjdoland AT pjdoland DOT com> on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:11PM (#5250691) Homepage
    Even though the plastic is 3 times more expensive than galvanized metal, it could still be more economical in the long run. A plastic body could result in a lighter car with better gas mileage (that's cheaper to run).

    But I'd also worry about the possibility of a lighter car being less safe.
    • I suppose it depends upon the vantage point of the people involved in a collision. Which would you rather be hit by: a Ford Explorer or a Honda CRZ?

      There are also issues of a smaller car being more maneuverable. My wife once avoided a serious accident by being able to swerve her VW Rabbit very quickly to safely pass a camper shell that blew off from the vehicle in front of her on the freeway.

      While larger and heavier vehicles absorb collision stress better than those of less mass, it's likely that a larger proportion of lighter vehicles on the road could reduce injuries by simply reducing the collision loads.
      • While larger and heavier vehicles absorb collision stress better than those of less mass, it's likely that a larger proportion of lighter vehicles on the road could reduce injuries by simply reducing the collision loads

        Which is why I think SUV's are evil. SUV owners frequently mention "my kids/wife will be safer", ignoring the fact that their hurtling behemoth makes the rest of us less safe. The damn things have sparked an arms race in my neck of the woods - everybody wants their kids to be safer and thus, per your observation, they end up making the roads less safe for everyone.

        Quite the pair of MDs.

  • It never fades. Sunlight's ultraviolet rays trigger a chemical reaction in the Sollx film, forming a protective outer coating that won't decay.

    So sunlight actually causes a reaction in the paint itself? They claim it won't decay, but still... I'd be a little uneasy about anything that actually reacts chemically to sunlight (including the paint on most cars). I'd prefer something that's inherently resistant, without the need for a chemical reaction. So does this reaction break down after awhile, only to be reactivated again the next time it's exposed to sunlight?
  • As a consumer, would there be any safety considerations during collision with using plastic instead of steel for body panels? I would assume that steel would absorb some limited amount of energy in the process of deformation. Would plastic do as well in these cases or are the energies too big for it to matter anyway?

    Just curious...
  • Why don't they... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nyc_paladin ( 534862 )
    "We could look better than paint. But right now, we have to look like paint."

    If they could make it better than paint then why don't they? If they can make a better product, save cost and make it look better it would give them more of an edge. Especially against an industry that has been part of auto making since the beginning. The more advantages the better.
  • But it wouldn't really be replacing paint, as the automobile industry has been using powder []

    for about a decade.
  • how safe is this plastic for the environment? is it recyclable?
    • how safe is this plastic for the environment? is it recyclable?

      Maybe the question should be: How harmful is the current paint process to the envorinment? (The answer to that is very much so -- probably the most harmful of any part of the car-building process...including the actual driving part for about 50,000 miles). The logical followup is: Compared with the current paint process, how safe is the plastic technique? Is it as recyclable as steel?

  • by jesser ( 77961 )
    I like the Segway as much as the next geek, but is it accurate to say that it was mass-produced?
  • Fieros and plastic (Score:2, Informative)

    by BJZQ8 ( 644168 )
    Pontiac Fieros were plastic-bodied way back in 1984. The problem with plastic car bodies is the fact that they have huge coeffecients of thermal expansion. So when the car gets hot, door gaps and seals tend to distort themselves out of place. Early GM experiments showed that some doors became unclosable, and windows fell from their frames. Different compounds and intelligent design solved many of the problems, though; the Fiero body never rusts and mine looks great after all these years. Mine does not catch on fire, either, since I have a 420-horsepower V-8 in the back instead of the wheezing 4-banger. So plastic is certainly not revolutionary, but applying plastic in very thin sheets is certainly interesting.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:39PM (#5250936) Homepage Journal
    First: Metal has two advantages over plastic. One, it's cheap; We sell our scrap steel to Japan for a song, and they make it into cars. This is why Japanese cars are made of harder metal than our own. (Japan has hardly any Iron available, so they import it.) Japanese cars of today are made out of the Impalas and F150s and such of yesterday that didn't escape the crusher, and/or California's draconian smog laws, for example. It costs more to ship the steel than it does to buy the scrap.

    Second, metal is stronger than plastics, up until you get into carbon fiber or similar carbon or aramid composites, which aren't plastics. They're composites. Even FRP (Fiber-reinforced plastic) which is somewhat common for air dams and such, it's floppy. You could make it hard but then it would be brittle.

    Something that people tend to forget about cars is that unibody cars are a monocoque or semi-monocoque design. Most unibody cars are actually half monocoque, with a unibody rear, and then frame rails and underfenders just sort of sitting out in front of the car beyond that. The entire back skin of a unibody car is load-bearing, which is why it's a monocoque design. Stresses from spirited driving are transferred into the roof. This is why convertibles are floppy and require additional reinforcement.

    There are some full-monocoque cars, like the older Opel GT. They don't really HAVE a classic frame, they're just built up where the suspension equipment bolts on. Of course the new classic example (since no one seems to know what an Opel GT is any more) is the McLaren F1, which everyone has heard of. That, however, is a carbon fiber full-monocoque design.

    So metal is stronger than plastic, necessary in the car's design, and it will in almost every case look different than plastic even after painting. Plastic and metal require different primers, and the texture of the primer on a different material changes the way the car looks when it is painted. It can also be a challenge to get a primer for plastic and a primer for metal which won't interact differently with the paint you lay on top of it.

    If you want a prime (oh I kill me) example of this phenomenon, examine a Pontiac Fiero. The Saturns with plastic doors aren't old enough to really see a color change, but of course that is due to fading which this stuff is supposed to not do. The Fieros, however, are painted with different paints depending on whether you're painting plastic or metal. It becomes very noticable on them as they age.

    The final and perhaps most compelling reason to use metal is that it has the best failure mode out of all available materials. Plastic tends to shatter when you put enough force into the same part of it all at once. Steel, on the other hand, first work hardens when you flex it, making it stronger in the bent place. If you bend it beyond its elastic limit, anyway. If you continue to stress it it will distress (Crack) and then tear. However, with sheet steel, it mostly causes other areas to deform instead of tearing.

    With steel, there is no damage which cannot be repaired. Pieces too badly damaged to straighten can be replaced to or near original specifications by removing a relatively small piece and fabricating a new piece of steel to fill the hole. This is true of any steel part of the car, from the body to the unibody to the frame. Plastic, on the other hand, usually has to be cured into a shape. Plastic bumper covers can be repaired (with some difficulty) but they are not load-bearing. They're just dressing. The only load they ever have to bear is atmospheric.

    I should not have to remind you that this tendency to work-harden when pushed past the elastic limit and excellent failure mode is the technology behind "crumple zones" in cars. We know about how the stress is going to be transferred into other parts of the steel. Even cars which DO have plastic parts on the outside have metal parts right under them to deal with crashes. The upgraded version of crumple zone technology is used in NASCAR racing, and it's carbon fiber honeycombs built to fail in a predictable way, just like the crumple zones in a normal car - except of course the cells are smaller and more predictable. The bumpers are also upwards of $2000, which makes them impractical for street use.

    Steel is cheap and good and can be easily repaired out in the real world. Plastics may make it possible, but they also possibly make repairs a big pain in the ass. You have to consider the difficulty of repair as well as initial construction.

  • Does this mean I can get a car to match my iBook?

    And, if so, can I do this [] with it?
  • Not to be a luddite, but I rather enjoy being encased in a steel cage when lightning hits [] my car.

    OK, it doesn't happen every week, but still...
  • Make sure it's a 1988, though. It took GM until then to get it right, then they quit making it. Mmmm...Engine Fires.
  • by iamdrscience ( 541136 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @01:16PM (#5251348) Homepage
    I can't believe this actually made it on Slashdot, there's already a COMMERCIAL for this on TV, it's narrated by Alec Baldwin and he talks all about it and then at the end tells you GE is cool.

  • by tenzig_112 ( 213387 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @01:45PM (#5251649) Homepage
    The only issue with Sollx is that it seems to make cars hard to steal. While that would generally be a good thing, it will ruin future releases of Grand Theft Auto.

    "Quick, take this car down to the, um, place and have it dipped in Sollx."

I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs. -- H.L. Mencken