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Soft-Touch Elastomers Gain Traction in Automotive Markets

SpecialChem / Jan 17, 2005

Automobile manufacturers looking for cost-effective ways to differentiate their models from the competition are increasingly turning to soft-touch thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs). Such materials impart a luxurious feel and an esthetically appealing appearance to many interior car structures. Among the fastest growing automotive applications of soft-touch TPEs are instrument panel skins, seat backs, door trim, arm rests, handles, knobs and airbag doors. In some cases, soft-touch elastomers are replacing harder plastics or rubber. In other cases, they are replacing other soft-touch materials containing PVC, which is being phased out by some automakers for environmental and legislative reasons. A major driving force for TPE soft-touch materials made of thermoplastic olefins (TPOs) is the movement toward recycling. Recycling is simpler and less costly when all the plastics in a vehicle are from the same chemical family, such as olefinics. Whatever their compositions, elastomers for soft-touch applications may be used alone or in laminated structures produced by overmolding techniques.

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