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The Dodge Poly Car

From the Walter P. Chrysler Club magazine - first printed 1980. Reprinted by permission. Nonattributed.

The Chrysler "polycar," an experimental, lightweight LeBaron which advanced materials engineers have been testing for several years, is being shown to the public for the first time at various auto shows.

The new "poly-car," or PXL, which stands for "Polymeric Extra Light," is an updated version of the original 1978 LeBaron "poly-car" which was a take-off on the Chrysler XL car consisting of lightweight metals. Decals on the car point out each part's location and the weight saved. The exhibit also includes panels illustrating the car's lightweight parts.

"We're constantly working to make our cars lighter, stronger and more fuel efficient," said Aaron Rosen- stein, supervisor of materials development at Chrysler. "Each year, iron and steel give way to more high strength steel, aluminum and plastic."

Today's "poly-car" includes some 20 parts applications:

  • Graphite-composite driveshaft, leaf springs, door hinges, engine accessory bracket and valve pushrods.
  • Fiberglass reinforced plastic wheels, door inner panels, grille opening panel, bumper energy absorber, transmission crossm ember, oil and transmission pans, engine fan, and heater core top.
  • Non-reinforced plastic headlamps, side windows and sun visor bracket.
  • Floor mats and rear shelf panel.

Total weight savings compared with parts made from conventional materials is about 150 pounds.

"We were very selective and realistic about which organic substitute parts have serious potential to go into production in the next few years," said Rosenstein. "This step-by-step, a few-at-a-time approach resulted in taking about 650 pounds out of our 1980 models. We've been able to improve fuel economy and still offer big car space for people and luggage.

"The PXL test parts are working out fine. We started with the driveshaft (eight pound savings) and rear leaf springs (31 pound savings), and went after other parts to save even a pound or two. The pounds add up.

"To experiment with an entire car of exotic materials would be impractical," Rosenstein said. "You don't gain anything by substituting nonstructural parts like body panels with graphite composites. And the use of any of these advanced composite materials is still prohibitive because of availability, cost, and manufacturing and handling methods."

Some have been used in the aerospace programs for years, but not anywhere near volume production in the millions the auto industry requires.

Furthermore, parts or materials demands could change drastically from today's experimental parts.

Chrysler prototype parts have already been lab tested. We're now engaged in proving grounds performance and endurance testing, followed by field testing under varying environmental conditions, said Rosenstein.

Even after production begins, they would be used interchangeably with conventional parts to allow a smooth manufacturing transition. Much care was taken to design the substitutes as close as possible to the conventional parts so they could fit in the same space and do the same jobs.

When Chrysler first experimented with a lighter conventional steel driveshaft, the engineers tried using a hollow aluminum tube to save weight. But that tended to bend when rotating. By adding a coating of graphite, the engineers got the lighter, stronger driveshaft they wanted. In experimenting with springs, the engineers were able to use one steel leaf and a graphite helper in place of four steel leaf springs.

Sheet molding compound (SMC) plastic has been in use for some time in Chrysler grille opening panels, but not for door inner panels because of the question of how to attach other components to the plastic and the cost.

It may seem ironic that the substitutes are made of essentially hydrocarbons, which the world is trying to conserve. "But less than one percent of the total U. S. petroleum feedstocks is used in making automotive plastics. The end goal is to make cars more fuel efficient by using the new materials so that over the life of the car there'll be a net savings in petroleum usage."

See our main concept cars page.

Tire Motor vehicle Wheel Mode of transport Automotive design
Concept cars are often made so a car's feel can be evaluated, problems can be foreseen, and reactions of the public can be judged. Some concepts test specific ideas, colors, controls, or materials - either subtle or out of proportion, to hide what's being tested. Some are created to help designers think "out of the box." The Challenger, Prowler, PT Cruiser, and Viper were all tested as production-based concepts dressed up to hide the production intent.

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