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Looking For Plastic Body Panels

We're not going to make the case that moving away from plastic body panels caused the ultimate demise of Saturn. But if you take away the front and rear fascias, it is somewhat difficult to come up with cars that have a significant use of polymers for exterior body panels. Here are some notable ones.

We're not going to make the case that moving away from plastic body panels caused the ultimate demise of Saturn. But if you take away the front and rear fascias, it is somewhat difficult to come up with cars that have a significant use of polymers for exterior body panels. Here are some notable ones.

Smart For Two
One of the issues with exterior body panels is having the wherewithal to make them sufficiently large. This isn't exactly a huge problem for the smart fortwo, which has a body produced from thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) with blended-in color. That's because the car is just 106.1-in. long, 61.38-in. wide, and 60.71-in. high. There is a steel "safety cell" under the plastic skin. But they've made the body panels
a "feature" in that the doors can be swapped out for different colors.

BMW 6 Series
The BMW 6 Series is a study in materials. The side panels are formed with thermoplastic because BMW engineers concluded that the fender shape, including the recess into which there are repeat blinkers inserted, couldn't be stamped with steel or aluminum. The trunklid is produced from SMC. Yet there is extensive use of metal: the hood and door panels are produced from aluminum.

Lamborghini Reventón
The Lamborghini Reventón roadster will not remain a one-off, the company insists. But even if you have the 1.1-million-euro starting price, you may be out of luck, because they're not going to be building more than 20 of them. The skin of the car is primarily carbon fiber. The exception is the doors, which are made of sheet steel. Under the skin is a high-strength steel shell that is said to be so stiff that just minimal reinforcements are required. Presumably, this means the carbon fiber exterior panels are essentially decorative—and oh, how decorative they are. Speaking of the panels, matt grey paint was developed for the car, Reventón Grey. (OK, we know you're wondering: It has a 661-hp V12 aluminum engine that is mounted longitudinally in front of the rear axle and the permanent all-wheel-drive six-speed transmission ahead of it so that there is 58% of the vehicle weight (total vehicle weight: 3,726 lb.) handled by the rear wheels. The car has a 0 to 62 mph time of 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 205 mph. And if you could afford the car you probably wouldn't care to know that based on EPA calculations, it gets 10 mpg city, 16 mpg highway, or a combined 12 mpg. No, you wouldn't care.)

Dodge Viper
One of the characteristics of cars with plastic body panels is that post-Saturn, they tend to be on the niche side, volume-wise. Another is that it is likely that they'll blow the doors off of many other cars. Consider the Dodge Viper, for example. In 2008, the total sales for Vipers was 1,172—which represents an increase of 169% compared with '07 sales. The Viper has SMC and RIM body panels, including RIM front and rear fascias and composite impact beams. The Dodge Viper SRT10 ACR (American Club Racer) also features a carbon fiber splitter in the front and a rear carbon fiber wing with seven-position adjustable stanchions. Oh, and did we mention the 600-hp, 8.4-liter V10 that is clocked at 0 to 100 mph in 11 seconds flat?

ZR1 Corvette
There are Corvettes. And then there is the ZR1 Corvette. The first thing you might notice is the raised, all carbon-fiber hood. The second thing that you might notice is the 638-hp LS9 supercharged engine under the hood. "Wait!" you say. "How can you notice something ‘under the hood'?" Simple: there is a polycarbonate window on top of the hood that allows you to see what's under it. And there is carbon fiber for the roof. Roof bow. Rocker molding. Front spiltter. Front fenders, too. For all of the carbon fiber, it is a good deal: starting MSRP of just $105,670.