Wonderfully Versatile: Plastics Shape the Car of the Future

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Wonderfully Versatile: Plastics Shape the Car of the Future

Interview with Alex Horisberger, Senior Specialist Product Design, BASF

The versatility of plastic is one of its strongest characteristics, and it makes it particularly popular amongst designers. Once you have found the right plastic for a project, you have endless design possibilities. Plastic is also a favored material for BASF’s design team: in collaboration with Citroën, the chemical company rethought the classic car – with plastic as the central building block that made the implementation of the innovative concept possible in the first place.

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Mr. Horisberger, you developed the oli concept car with Citroën. How can we imagine it?

Alex Horisberger: In many aspects, the concept car answers questions that are directed at the mobility of tomorrow: How can I simplify my commute? Can a vehicle save resources and be fun at the same time? How can it look good at the same time? The result is a particularly lightweight yet robust and durable automobile – without frills, unnecessary luxuries and well thought out down to the smallest detail.

What challenges arise in such a development? What requirements have to be met?

Horisberger: Durability, recyclability and simplicity play a crucial role in the novel concept. At the same time, the aim was to make sustainability look good. And in terms of production technology, the simplification principle was also consistently implemented; for example, the driver and passenger doors are identical. During development and design, we worked closely with Citroën to select the right materials from BASF’s broad portfolio.

To what extent can plastics help meet these challenges?

Horisberger: Plastics are incredibly versatile and can therefore contribute to the functionality and functional integration of many vehicle components. Our polyamides have also proven their long-term durability many times over under typical automotive conditions without aging or corrosion. Of course, the sustainability aspect is also crucial: BASF is developing plastics that enable both mechanical and chemical recycling to support the industry in its transition from a linear to a circular economy. In addition, these engineering plastics can be made from renewable or recycled raw materials.

As a company, how do you find the right material to implement the designs?

Horisberger: We are dealing here with the reversal of the normal approach to a product, because often the prevailing principle is ‘form follows function’. But when we look at a car from a sustainability perspective, materials and manufacturing technologies have to come first. In this project, the boundaries were pushed further and further, whether by using materials in unusual ways or by fundamentally rethinking the design of a component.

Which plastics are used in the concept car and why exactly these?

Horisberger: To make Citroën’s vision of reusability and simplicity a reality, BASF relied on the material of a single TPU product family for the interior, for example, thereby facilitating mechanical recycling at the end of the product life cycle. Thanks to their versatility, our TPU grades enable different functions in the process. One visionary highlight of the concept, for example, was the production of a 3D-printed seat made of TPU material that is both highly flexible and functional. The iconic storage compartment (Elastollan) and the vehicle floor (Infinergy) are made from the same product family.

The exterior features lightweight yet robust plastic components that on the one hand reduce energy consumption while driving, but on the other hand leave design managers with all the design options they need. The hood, roof and pickup-like trunk made of Elastoflex are strong enough to be used as ladders, roof tent bases or for transporting Christmas trees.

How do you assess future developments as far as the use of plastics in design objects is concerned?

Horisberger: In the numerous customer projects we carry out as BASF Creation Center, we see that the versatility of plastics, combined with the right sustainability concepts, offer designers endless possibilities to design clever products that really make consumers want to act sustainably. Just as oli impressively demonstrates: Modesty and sustainability can look good!

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