The Tokyo Motor Show held this year was in particular abuzz with the use of new materials in the automotive sector. As the industry was rocked over the past few years over safety issues such as air bags that could potentially snap the driver's neck rather than save lives and the curtailing of proper standards inspection for cars and parts including conventional materials, alternatives were focused upon this year. One category was use of softer yet sturdier materials generally, as per Toyoda Gosei (a distant cousin of Toyota Motor Corp.).
Several concept cars on display were made of shock-absorbing polymeric materials that still were strong enough improve passenger survivability in case of accidents. Interestingly, there was even talk – albeit remote and certainly probably only in part – of using expanded polystyrene (EPS, the stuff seen used in fast food joints upon serving warm food and liquids... in fact from this year being banned by places like New York City as to use in this manner), though the expansion amount for cushion EPS for vehicles is to be only a fraction of that of the “styrofoam” cup.
Toyoda Gosei's concept car the Flesby is not made of this but is flexible yet shape retaining. As an aside, styrofoam is extruded polystyrene (XPS) and therefore no such thing as a styrofoam cup exists. The maker, Dow Chemical, uses styrofoam as insulation materials. Ostensibly it can be used in automobiles for colder climes but like more usable for highway-related sheds or whatnot. Either way, the automotive manufacturers are more interested in tough polymers from Dow and other chemical firms for use by their industry.
Actually, not just tough but light is required these days, and one promising item is cellulose nanofiber, made from wood pulp. By appropriate processing, the cellulose from wood and other plants can be turned efficiently into materials with strengths to match steel yet weight a lot less. As soon as the issue of production costs can be cleared, many automakers are raring to use it in place of conventional items.
Another industry mainstay is rubber tires, but there are now materials that can adjust itself according to external conditions. Perhaps one of these days, there would be no need to drop by gasoline stands to boot snowboots on tires or the like. As a matter of fact, the use of non-gasoline fuel, Hydrogen becoming one favorite alongside electricity, could mean no more “gasoline stands” to be found nearby.
With many countries currently seeking to ban the internal combustion-driven automobiles, the landscape of and roadmap for the automotive industry promises to change over the next two years and the Tokyo Motor Show also perhaps will be transformed into a more electric vehicles (EVs) and other innovative cars. Hopefully, companies will become as flexible as the products they produce.