It’s only fitting that the Viper supercar from Chrysler Group’s Street and Racing Technology (SRT) brand is the 2012 winner of the Vehicle Engineering Team Award (VETA) from the Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers. The crown will be placed on Chrysler engineers and key suppliers at a gala banquet Nov. 7 in Livonia, Mich.
The Viper was born of a team approach in 1989 after Chrysler was struggling to get out of financial trouble (Part I). Chrysler President Bob Lutz wanted a modern version of the Ford Cobra. But Chrysler had no money. Lutz got a mere $80 million to develop the Viper. VP Purchasing Tom Stallkamp turned to supplier’s to do core engineering for the car. I’ll never forget getting blown away at a Composites Conference press conference when companies that were normally competitors discussed how they made each other’s’ products better through collaboration.
It was a game changer in Detroit where purchasing was famous for beating the suppliers to death. It earned Stallamp the pre-Daimler presidency of Chrysler and it earned the Viper a place in automotive history.
And now it’s wonderful to see that collaborative approach is still in place even though the players (and ownership) have changed a few times over.
VETA recognizes the technical achievements of entire teams comprised of automotive designers and engineers, tier integrators, materials suppliers, toolmakers, and others whose work—in research, design, engineering, and/or manufacturing—has led to significant integration of polymeric materials on a notable vehicle.
The first winner was Porsche AG for the 2004 MY Porsche Carrera GT supercar.
According to Mike Shinedling, Viper engineering launch manager, SRT Engineering, at Chrysler Group, “The Viper has a long tradition of raising the bar on plastics and composites innovation. Historically, Vipers have been ‘bare-bones/no-frills’ sports cars . something that was acceptable to our most ardent, hard-core customers, but not all potential buyers appreciated. In fact, many loyal Viper customers had been requesting more amenities and features on our next vehicle and I’m happy to say our team rose to the challenge. The new 2013 SRT Viper is a performance machine that takes a quantum leap forward by offering world-class levels of feature content, interior trim, and exterior finish, and it does so at a significant weight savings. Plastics and composites were key enablers in creating our most outstanding vehicle to date while directly lowering vehicle mass approximately 100 pounds (45 kilograms).”
Key features include (text courtesy the SPE):
- Extensive use of composites on exterior body panels (representing more than 50% of the vehicle’s skin): epoxy-matrix carbon fiber prepreg (visible fabric weave on surface from Umeco plc/Cytec Industries and unidirectional structural layers from Toray Carbon Fibers Americas, Inc.) were used to mold the clamshell hood/fender module as well as the structural roof (which meets US requirements for roof crush) and liftgate by Plasan Carbon Composites using vacuum bag/autoclave cure. Inner and outer panels are bonded with structural polyurethane (PUR) adhesives from Dow Automotive (roof) and Ashland Inc. (hood/fenders and liftgate). Exterior panels are all painted, but hood and liftgate inner panels feature polished, exposed-weave carbon composite. Replacing previous sheet- molding compound (SMC) and metal provided a mass savings of 73 pounds/33 kilograms. a 43% weight reduction vs. equivalent parts on the previous Viper.
- The liftgate ‘widow’s peak’ outer panel is a Class A, injection-molded polycarbonate/acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (PC/ABS, from Dow Automotive). It is adhesively bonded with PUR adhesive from Ashland to the carbon composite inner panel produced by Plasan to provide stowage for satellite and navigation antennae to ensure a clean exterior appearance.
- A composite windshield frame is SMC (glass and carbon fiber-reinforced thermoset polyester matrix). This hybrid composite material is approximately 5 pounds/2.3 kilograms lighter than windshield frames on typical cars yet offers improved stiffness, consolidates 10 previous parts into 2 moldings, and contributes to roof-crush protection. Quantum Composites/The Composite Group compounds the material and molds the windshield surround/frame as well as door surrounds and front splash shields (also in SMC).
- Thermoplastic bumper beams: NetShape International produces front and rear bumper beams that are injection molded from unreinforced polycarbonate/polybutylene terephthalate (PC/PBT) thermoplastic alloy from SABIC.
- Front and rear bumper fascias were supplied by Romeo RIM, which also produces rear quarter panels and rear appliqué, all in reinforced-reaction-injection molded (RRIM) polyurethane supplied by Bayer MaterialScience.
- Composite trunk pan/rear clip: conventional and low-density glass-reinforced polyester-matrix SMC from Ashland was used by Magna International Inc. to compression mold the vehicle’s trunk pan/rear clip, which provides dimensional structure for the entire rear end of the car while lowering weight and tooling costs and increasing storage in the same packaging space.
- Composite seat structures: Novation SpA used resin-transfer molded (RTM’d) vinyl-ester resin (supplied by NOVIA) that is reinforced with glass, carbon, and aramid fibers to replace conventional steel-frame seats for a weight savings of 3 pounds even with the addition of height-adjustment functionality. The new seats also improved comfort and interior cockpit space. The painted Class A structure, assembled by tier-1 supplier, Sabelt SpA is visible on the back side of the seats, adding a high-tech look and feel to the vehicle’s interior.
- Plastics-intensive instrument cluster: plastic materials were a critical enabler for the thin-film transistor (TFT) overlay/bezel on the instrument cluster supplied by Magnetti Marelli SpA.