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E-M:/ GM to halt use of PVC's
Enviro-Mich message from Terry Link <link@MAIL.LIB.MSU.EDU>
Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999 01:04:20 -0400
From: Rick Hind <Rick.Hind@wdc.greenpeace.org
To: Multiple recipients of list DIOXIN-L <email@example.com
Subject: GM Says NO to PVC in Cars
If you have a moment, take the time to thank GM (perhaps through their web
page), acknowledging they may have had various resons, but emphasizing the
long-term environmental benefit. This could be the begining of the end of
PVC entering the auto scrap smelting furnaces (at doxzens of pounds of
chlorine/ car, more or less), and IT'S THE FIRST LARGELY SELF-INITIATED
PHASE-OUT OF OVC THAT I'M AWARE OF! -tony
Plastics News September 20, 1999 Page 1
GM banishing PVC in auto interior panels
By Joseph Pryweller PLASTICS NEWS STAFF
Warren, Mich-General Motors Corp. plans to become the first carmaker to
eliminate PVC on all its interior panels worldwide.
By 2004, the Detroit-based carmaker expects to use non-PVC materials for all
new vehicle programs, staff project engineer Maureen Sobolewski said in an
interview at GM's North American Operations Interior Center in Warren.
The policy primarily affects covering skins for instrument panels and door
panels. According to several resin companies, PVC now captures 70-80
percent of the materials market for those parts in North America and Europe.
The surprise move paves the way for the introduction of other materials,
such as thermoplastic olefins and polyurethane, in those application.
GM's decision was made partly to light a fire under parts and resin
suppliers to find alternatives, Sobolewski said.
"There has been some resistance in the past by resin suppliers," she said.
"It's been on the back burner in the development of products. We've
received greater commitments from them now, and we couldn't be happier with
Performance issues helped force the move, including PVC's lack of durability
over a long period, according to William Shikany, director of GM's interior
The carmaker found that PVC cracks, warps, and fades too quickly, Shikany
"It didn't take consumer studies to tell us that people didn't like cracks
in panels," Shikany said.
Other issues include windows fogging from the leaching of PVC plasticizers,
and PVC's weight disadvantage compared with other materials, Shikany said.
But the issue was brought to a head by the inability of PVC to work with
seamless air-bag doors, said David Mattis, engineering director for
materials and appearance at the Warren center. Consumers are starting to
request doors with invisible seams that still can be penetrated with an air
bag during a crash, he said.
GM's rollout of non-PVC materials began in May for all future vehicles. But
the carmaker talked publicly about its plan for the first time last week,
even though the supply community has been preparing for the change for
"If PVC was not already sourced in May for a vehicle's development, we began
expecting our supppliers to specify alternatives, " Sobolewski said in a
Sept. 15 interview. "It doesn't affect programs midway into production.
But there's still the option to make a switch."
GM has planned the move since Jan. 28, when its interior council approved a
plan to restrict the use of PVC in newly designed vehicle interiors,
according to a GM memo obtained by Plastics News.
GM is attempting to rally its suppliers. On July 21, hundreds of parts and
resin suppliers were invited to GM's technical center in Warren for "PVC
Alternative Discovery Day." Sixteen booths were set up and 20 supplier
technical presentations were made on non-PVC materials.
"It really opened our eyes that they were serious," said one supplier. "it
gave us the chance to show our best solutions, and we knew they were
Still, many parts and resin suppliers cautioned that TPOs and urethanes have
issues, too. While most avoided criticizing GM's plan, they said that TPOs
are as much as 40 percent more expensive than PVC.
For the long term, GM is not willing to pay a major cost premium, Sobolewski
siad. It will be up to suppliers to absorb any difference, she added.
Some suppliers believe that can happen albeit not easily.
"Sometimes, we can pass it through with savings from processing or by
recycling," said Jack Van Ert, director of advanced process development with
Southfield, Mich.-based interior-parts supplier Lear Corp. "But I'm not
going to say that will always cover the cost of the material coming to us."
That issue temporarily could block a wholesale switch from PVC to TPOs for
some automakers, said Dennis Hiller, president of American interior
operations for Collins & Aikman Corp., of Troy, Mich. But that could change
as costs decrease, he said.
"I can't predict the time frame, but there could be more of a shift by 2006
or 2007," Hiller said. "It will happen once the supply base matures and the
costs come down."
Even TPO suppliers were a bit dubious as to how well GM's plans will work
out in the short term.
"The OEMs can't just come beating down on everyone's head and --crack!--say
that we'll be price-competitive with new materials," said one resin
supplier. "They have to find the best way to fit this in."
Andre Ferland, market development manager for Solvay Engineered Polymers,
said GM's move is a tremendous opportunity for his company. But he
cautioned that GM must be willing to make a greater change.
"It isn't just going to be PVC replacement," said Ferland, who is based in
Aurburn Hills, Mich. "Our biggest dilemma has been the industry's
stubbornness to try to force-fit new material technologies into current
designs and manufacturing practices. In essence, you try to put a square
peg in a round hole."
The move has resin suppliers scramblin for non-PVC solutions, acording to
several suppliers. Virtually every interior-parts supplier now has products
on the road or in development, supplier sources said.
"There are products out there ready to go," said Chris Thomas, marketing
development manager for Montell Polyolefins' automotive group in Troy.
"We're working closely with some Tier 1 [parts suppliers] to line up some
Currently, Dtroit-based GM uses TPO instrument-panel cover skins on its new
Saturn LS mid-sive cars and year-2000 Pontiac Bonneville. The automaker
recently introduced both models.
No other automaker has attempted such a material ban, though both Ford Motor
Co. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. have used non-PVC skins on certain vehicles,
according to executives with those companies.
"PVC is of interest to us," said Robert Kainz, senior manager of pollution
prevention and life-cycle programs with Auburn Hills-based DaimlerChrysler.
"By understanding its benefits and limitations, we can make better business
But only a handful of other vehicles in production-most of them in
Europe-use plastic materials other than PVC in those specific applications.
Several of GM's Adam Opel and Saab models in Eurpoe use thermoplastic olefin
The decision is another blow to the bow of the PVC industry. Some toy
companies stopped using PVC in children's teethers last year, and some
medical companies have announced they are stepping up efforts to find
alternative resings for products such as blood bags.
GM produced 7.56 million cars and trucks globally in 1998, according to
figures provided by Automotive News, a sister publication of Plastics News.
Members of the Washington-based Vinyl Institute discussed the issue Sept. 9
with GM officials. While the discussion was amicable, GM officials' minds
were not changed, said Mark Sofman, director of issues management for the
association. From a performance and cost standpoint, PVC will be difficult
to replace, Sofman said.
To GM, PVC's performance and weight problems made it vulnerable. The
automaker also wants to simplify materials use with common resins for global
"We want to commonize and globalize," Mattis said. "It's a lot easier to
execute production decisions and develop technology when you're working with
"It's a tremendous boost to TPO suppliers," said Rober Eller, president of
plastic consulting firm Rober Eller & Associates Inc. of Akron, Ohio. "This
move brings U.S. and European suppliers closer together for global
positioning. It's a major development."
The change could also provide a major charge to the movement to recycle
interior autmotive parts.
PVC parts must be separated from olefinic materials before they are
recycled, adding cost to the process. The recycling issue makes TPOs a prime
candidate at GM to replace PVC, Sobolewski said.
GM's policy coulc be short-lived according to Bruce Barden, vice president
of research and development with PVC sheet suppplier Sandusky Ltd. of
Sandusky, Ohio. In 1978, the company attempted to move from PVC to urethane
for seat covers only to step away from that soon after, he said.
"The PVC issue is overblow, and [environmental groups] have too much impact
on companies with it," Barden said. "PVC is one of the best polymers out
there for long life and low cost. But if this is what GM wants to do, we
will find a way to supply it."
Suppliers are being forced to adapt quickly, according working with GM.
"There's a very solid movement toward non-PVC materials with automakers,"
said Timothy Jackson, director of automotive interior sales with Acton,
Mass.-based Haartz Corp., a maker of both PVC and TPO cover stock. "We're
certainly thinking this will happen, and we'll be prepared."
This year, the company invested $7 million to expand its plant and add
equipment to extrude olefin roll stock.
The company also is providing TPO cover stock to Dearborn Mich.-based
supplier Visteon Automotive Systems for the instrument panel of a 2001-model
Terry Link, Librarian
Chair University Committee for a Sustainable Campus
Adjunct Faculty, Bailey Scholars Program
100 Library Lane
East Lansing, MI 48824
True charity is not a measure of how much one gives, but rather how much one
Be the change you want to see in life...............M. Gandhi
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