Two years ago, a Bloomberg Business Week writer asked if Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was crazy for a rapid ramp-up of the electric Nisan Leaf. Ghosn was widely credited for bringing Nissan back from a near-death experience in the late 1990s, but Leaf sales have sagged, triggering big discounts.
Now, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal this week, Ghosn is gambling again in his bid to build sales.
Ghosan said that Nissan will introduce the Datsun brand as a $3,000 to $5,000 car in third world countries. Ghosn is not yet discussing details of how a car could be produced that inexpensively, but suffice it to say that a car could not be sold for that price in the United States, Canada or Europe because of extensive safety and quality requirements.
One solution could be more extensive use of plastics, although any details would be pure speculation. PVC is being replaced in automotive interiors in North America with thermoplastic elastomers. Possibly PVC, a less expensive plastic, could be used more extensively in the new Third World car. And no fancy styling or Bluetooth either.
It would seem possible that injection molded plastics could play an important role in the body of the car as well. Injection molded thermoplastics were used in the original Saturn models and then replaced with metals.
Saturns used polycarbonate /ABS (PC/ABS) for doors, and GTX polyphenylene oxide and polyamide (PPO/PA) sold by GE Plastics (now Sabic Innovative Plastics) for the quarter panels.
Former GM executive Bob Lutz told the story of how plastics panels seemed like a great ideabut then fizzled in Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business.
“In practice, however, the plastic panels were finicky. They took longer to produce than conventional stamped steel, and they grew and shrank when the temperature changed, requiring the cars to have wide, unappealing gaps around the doors, hood and trunk for clearance.”
Plastics have a different coefficient of linear thermal expansion (CLTE) than steel, meaning they need more space to grow and shrink. Sabic Innovative Plastics has been working hard to solve that problem.
In one sign of progress, Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) is now injection molding fenders on a new sports utility vehicle using Noryl GTX.
Maybe another idea that could be revived is a two-part injection molded auto body using a mammoth injection molding machine. In the late 1990s, Husky Injection Molding Systems built an 8,000 ton press and put it into a new Detroit development center because of Chrysler’s interest in developing an all-plastic car body.
The idea died, but maybe the press is still available.