Automakers are into fitting cars with lots of plastic materials which is a sharp departure from the past. What went wrong or what is it that they are doing right that we may not know and complain about cars being soft these days.
Jude: You saw that hen that knocked a bumper in China. (lots of laughter)
Mustafa: I didn’t see it, tell me.
Jude: There was a Daily Mail story on the internet about a month ago. Someone was driving a Toyota in China and then a hen hit his bumper, it was the other way round not the car hitting the bird. The hen got stuck in the bumper, he stopped the car and pulled it out because it was still alive.
Mustafa: So there was a hole in the bumper.
Jude: Yeah, but Toyota Japan made a statement that the bumper was not originally made by them but one made in China.
Mustafa: So it was a makeshift covering of sorts.
Jude: But some people made comments on how this couldn’t have happened, you know those internet comments. They were questioning how a bumper could be that soft. However, I have seen some cars here in Uganda whereby a simple knock on the bumper is enough to make it fall off literally. So the question people are asking is that why aren’t today’s cars as hard as those made in the 1980s and 1990s?
Paul: It actually comes down to two things. One, simple economics and two, the new traffic safety design is about…
Jude: Oh…..saving pedestrians.
Paul: Especially the western world, that is the biggest market for cars. In terms of economics, the use of plastic polymers or polyurethane or basically plastics have taken over the use of steel. It is not only in the car industry, the latest Boeing A380 has more plastic than aluminium or steel because they have developed plastics strong enough to make panels. Panels that will build planes, cars, fibre glass so the economics part of it comes into play. Two, the argument they use to justify this is (whether it is a cover or not) which makes sense is that it is safer for the pedestrians to be knocked by a car with plastic panels. I will give you an example-most cars today not only use plastic bumpers but also fenders. Look at the Nissan Terrano, Land Rover Freelander, Audi Q7, name it.
Jude: Even this Prado in front of us.
Paul: Yes, they claim that if you hit somebody between 5 to 10kph you are less likely to break their limbs. So there is the safety element and the other argument is that plastic panels are cheaper to replace in case of an accident.
Jude: For me, the argument that makes sense is the economics one that they are saving costs.
Paul: Also cars are lighter these days.