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Out with glass, in with plastic

2013-02-08 10:46

GOING PLASTIC: Fiat's 2014 500L will feature polycarbonate rear small windows instead of glass.

CHICAGO, Illinois - The 2014 Fiat 500L will have rear plastic side windows made of polycarbonate plastic to “improve aerodynamics and simplify construction” according to the Italian automaker.

And it might not just be them as high-strength plastic will soon replace window glass in other cars as it has the cheap plastic visuals on motorcycle helmets.

TWICE AS LIGHT

This material is half the weight of conventional windows and, when combined with compression moldings, can reduce the number of parts needed to fit them.

Glass windows can make up to 45kg of a car’s weight, so the possibilty of shedding another 23kg will always be appealing to manufacturers.

Ducker Worldwide's Automotive Materials Practice managing director, Dick Schultz says: “Every kilogram counts.”

Although use of the material is nothing new and have been used for years, industry analysts predict that lightweight windows will finally go mainstream.

According to the Detroit News, Ford is conducting a 10 000-hour environmental durability testing cycle on these windows. If everything goes according to plan, polycarbonate could appear in the new Ford Transit Connect due later in 2013.

PRICEY ALTERNATIVE

A concern might be the cost: polycarbonate is nearly twice the price of glass. An expert said:
“Until parts consolidation, less assembly time and reduced commodity costs come into play because of large-scale manufacturing, it won’t be cost effective.”

While fixed rear windows and the back window will largely be replaced with polycarbonate, door windows and windshields will remain the same for quite some time due to the flexibility of new windows and safety regulations.

Polycarbonate could also be used for sunroofs.

RISKING LIVES

Polycarbonate might save weight, but its durability could be a problem. According to the Detroit News, the material does not crack and shatter like regular glass so emergency personnel could have difficulty getting to accident victims.

It must also meet scratch-resistance requirements, withstand defrosters and have ultraviolet protection to prevent hazing over time.

Would you buy a car with polycarbonate plastic or stick to conventional glass? Email us and we'll publish your thoughts or use the Readers' Comments section below...

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