Perhaps the city's track record had nothing to do with the local International Automotive Components (IAC) plant producing the lightweight, eco-friendly door bolsters for the new Escapes.
In truth, Greencastle is IAC's best-equipped plant for the new project.
"Our Greencastle plant is equipped with the necessary machinery designed for handling natural material components," said IAC Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Dave Ladd. "Also, Greencastle is one of our high-volume door panel producers. So they have the equipment and the experience that made them the best choice for producing this particular product."
However, the plant's involvement in the project should certainly be exciting to the residents who have been a part of Greencastle's sustainability initiatives in recent years.
Kenaf, a tropical plant related to cotton and okra plants, is being used to replace oil-based materials in the doors of the new Escape. The use of kenaf in the door bolsters should reduce the use of petroleum in two ways.
On the manufacturing end, it is anticipated to offset the use 300,000 pounds of oil-based resin annually in North America.
"Oil-based resins, for many reasons, are something we like to reduce," Ladd said. "We want to be less dependent on oil. Oil is not good for the environment. Natural materials are made from renewable resources, unlike oil. Kenaf and many of the others we are using in the auto industry do not compete with food sources, so that's not an issue."
Kenaf also reduces the weight of the bolsters by 25 percent, which in turn improves fuel economy.
"Right now lightweight is one of the biggest buzzwords in the auto industry because lightweight equals fuel efficiency. Anything we can do in any component of the vehicle to reduce weight is a big, big plus," Ladd said.
The other important element of kenaf is its strength. Because the bolster is part of the door, it must withstand stringent federal guidelines for side-impact crashes. At the end of a long process of testing several natural materials, IAC and Ford found kenaf to be the strongest material that also met their other guidelines.
"Kenaf was the one natural material that really fit the strength specifications that are required," Ladd said. "In federal requirements for side-impact crashes, the doors are a very important part."
One key to the economics of producing the door bolsters is they do not represent a major change for the production process at the Greencastle plant. The line that will produce the bolsters will function essentially the same way it has previously.
"Greencastle happens to be our one plant in North America that has injection-molding machinery that is specially equipped for natural materials. The previous materials they would have used in this machinery was wood stock," Ladd said.
He added that building an entirely new line would have made the project cost-prohibitive.
"The machinery we have there is specially modified for handling and heating natural materials so they are molded correctly," Ladd said. "Otherwise, the process is pretty much the same."
Materials that are recycled, renewable and that reduce impact on the environment include soy foam in the seats and head restraints; plastic bottles and other post-consumer and post-industrial materials in the carpeting; climate control gaskets made from recycled tires; and more than 10 pounds of scrap cotton from the making of denim jeans.
"Kenaf and the other renewable materials in the Escape have made the vehicle more environmentally friendly and fuel efficient," said Laura Sinclair, materials engineer for Escape.
Wide use of more environmentally friendly, recycled and recyclable materials complements the fuel economy of the Ford Escape, further boosting the vehicle's environmentally responsible credentials. The new Escape meets the USCAR Vehicle Recycling Partnership goal that 85 percent of the vehicle be recyclable.
IAC will begin producing the new bolsters in late February or early March.