Plastic fantastic

Hyundai says it has a cheaper alternative to carbonfibre

TOBY HAGON

HYUNDAI is looking to use a lightweight plastic developed by BASF for its RN30 show car as a possible replacement for carbonfibre in production cars.

The polyphthalamide material is among the highlights of the radical 280kW all-wheeldrive Paris show car, which demonstrated how far Hyundai could push the hot-hatch formula.

The new material is used extensively throughout the RN30, while other components sourced from BASF were employed elsewhere, including the seats.

The distinctively grained plastic is featured on the front splitter and rear diffuser, the dash and inside door skins, and even the spine-like fin that runs down the centre of the roof.

A BASF spokeswoman told Wheels: “Our high-performance materials support making the car lightweight as well as providing more design freedom when compared to traditional materials”.

Hyundai’s European design boss Raphael Bretecher says the new material is about stepping away from the now-common carbonfibre, which is ideal for many automotive applications but notoriously expensive to produce, so far limiting its use to expensive high-performance cars.

“We didn’t want to make a cliché, so that’s why we went away from carbon,” Bretecher said. “We talked to BASF and said … do you have anything useful, and they came up with this material. We found it, in terms of look, much more intriguing [than carbonfibre].”

The plastic is produced from carefully crafting natural fibres, including some metal, with a water-based resin to create a matte-grey finish with distinctive random graining.

BASF says the plastic “enables an environmentally compatible, dimensionally stable and, above all, lightweight solution for car composites such as dashboards and door panels that can be finished in various ways for high-quality design”.

Michel Glenisson from Hyundai’s European design centre, who was responsible for the interior look of the i30, said the

new BASF plastic could be used to replace carbonfibre.

While the RN30 is purely a show car, Bretecher said it provides clues to future production models – most likely the highly anticipated i30N hot hatch due in 2017 – and that elements such as the new lightweight plastic would appear somewhere.

“If we make a collaboration with BASF it is obviously because we have something in mind … I’m quite sure there will be some applications [of the new plastic in production models].”

BASF also produced innovative seat materials; the structure uses a new thermoplastic composite with fibre reinforcement to provide strength claimed to exceed that of metal. While it performs a similar job to carbonfibre, it’s understood the production process is less intensive, making it more affordable and easier to produce.

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New infrared-reflective organic films on the show car’s windows keep heat out but allow light, GPS and telephone signals in.

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Seat structure is made of a thermoplastic composite with fibre reinforcement, providing a lighter, stronger alternative to metal.

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Seats with transfer-coated finishes allow many different looks and textures that are soft and breathable, reducing perspiration.

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Flame-retardant polyphthalamides provide strength for structural components; also used in electrics and other components exposed to heat or near harsh chemicals like fuel.v

UNDER THE KNIFE

The RN30 gives clues to the upcoming i30N production car, which is due late in 2017.

The i30N will be offered in two configurations, one more road-focused and the other with an eye on the track. As reported by Wheels, there could also be an all-wheeldrive hyper-hatch to compete with everything from a Ford Focus RS to a Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.

In the shorter term, though, expect the base model to get about 190kW of power from its 2.0-litre turbo four.

The i30N Sport will use the same basic five-door body of the i30, with larger wheels and tyres and brakes commensurate with its performance.

It will also get an eight-speed twin-clutch transmission.

The trick trannie will get a wet clutch set-up to provide repeated launch control starts and ensure good temperature management.