New materials help Detroit stress quality

A "materials revolution" is sweeping Detroit. Not only are automotive engineers driving to cut weight, but they also are under heavy pressure to cut corrosion as well. They're further mandated to increase durability, meaning the longevity of cars as well as their crashworthiness, and to recude costs -- all at the same time.

For 1981, carmakers are responding in a big way.

American Motors, for example, has turned entirely to one-side galvanized steel in all outside body panels in the Concord, Spirit, and Eagle, significantly reducing the likelihood of rust. AMC also provides a five-year, 50,000-mile warranty against rust penetration on all of its cars and includes Ziebart processing at the factory.

Ford Motor Company is using all- plastic halogen headlights on its new Escort/Lynx, successors to the Pinto/bobcat.

Oldsmobile is using so-called "friendly fenders" on a new sporty compact Omega. The new-type plastic components, 10 pounds lighter than a conventional fender, flex in minor impacts and are a first in regular production cars.

The Chevrolet Corvette uses a fiberglass-reinforced plastic rear spring in its automatic-transmission cars, another production first for the industry. Ultimately, it will go into all Corvettes. The new single-leaf plastic spring weighs eight pounds, compared with 41 pounds for the 10-leaf steel spring it replaces.

Automakers also are increasing the use of high-strength steel (HSS). The rear bumper of the midsize Dodge Mirada has dumped aluminum for HSS for 1981.

Magnesium, lightest of all automotive structural metals, is coming on a strong, reports Ward's Auto World. "Platability, corrodibility, and cost problems sometimes plague magnesium," the magazine adds. Galvanic corrosion is a particular problem.

"Chevrolet's magnesium rocker covers are powder-metal coated to reduce the possibility of corrosion," asserts Ward's.

Indeed, automotive engineers, adapting to the realities of the 1980s, are giving up the "chrome philosophy" of the past and are moving at a fast clip into a whole array of new materials and processes.

The 1981-model cars are only the beginning, automotive engineers agree.

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