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DaimlerChrysler Corporation will equip the new Mercedes-Benz Travego travel coach with a natural fiber-reinforced engine and transmission cover as standard equipment, the first natural fiber-reinforced exterior vehicle component to go into series production. Use of natural fibers reduces weight by 10 percent and lowers the energy needed for production by 80 percent, while the cost of the component is five percent lower than the comparable fiberglass-reinforced component, according to Professor Heinrich Flegel, director of Production Technology at the DaimlerChrysler Research Center in Ulm, Germany. Professor Flegel made the announcement during a press conference for release of DaimlerChrysler Corporation’s 2000 Environmental Report. Over the last 10 years, DaimlerChrysler has continually developed new applications for natural fibers in vehicle production. Until now, use of flax, sisal, coconut fiber, otton and hemp has been limited to the interiors of DaimlerChrysler vehicles — in upholstery, door panelling or the rear panel shelf. DaimlerChrysler will also use natural fiber-reinforced materials in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class to be built in East London, South Africa, beginning in August. The vehicle will be equipped with a sisal-reinforced rear panel shelf made of environmentally friendly raw materials from local suppliers. By combining sisal and cotton, the share of natural fibers in the component has been increased to more than 70 percent. Natural fibers are used in many automobiles produced by the Chrysler Group in the United States. Future uses of natural fibers were explored in the Concepts for Advanced Recycling and Environmental (CARE) Car project. Working with major suppliers, DaimlerChrysler developed new concepts with the goal of making new vehicles 95 percent recyclable in the next five years. In that project, natural fibers were used in door trim panel components, including the arm rest and map pocket. The new applications of natural fibers build on DaimlerChrysler’s experience in a project in Belem, Brazil. That project, which began in 1991, provides the local population with a stable, long-term source of income through the use of natural fibers, while reducing destruction of the rain forest. Since 1996, residents of the Amazon island of Marajo have been supplying headrests made of coconut fiber to Mercedes-Benz do Brasil. Today, the cooperative supplies approximately 2,500 headrests per month.
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