Several Asian-based automakers plan to use composite materials instead of stamped steel for the cargo beds of upcoming small pickups, according to the Specialty Equipment Market Association. Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. have used the material in this application, but Japanese companies have been slow to embrace composites. The new wave of trucks with composite beds include the next-generation Toyota Tacoma pickup and 2005 Honda SUT. Accordiing to SEMA E-news, Nissan and Hyundai also are said to be considering similar applications and Nissan may use composite boxes in several pickups. ThyssenKrupp Budd Co. will manufacture a short and long sheet-molding-composite box for the Tacoma at a new plant near Toyota’s facility in Tijuana, Mexico. The automaker will finish the boxes in Mexico and ship them to its New United Motor Mfg. Inc. final-assembly-plant venture in Fremont, CA. At $5 million, the tooling costs for the composite box on the Tacoma is one-fifth of what it would be for a steel system, according to Budd. It also points out that additional features can be molded into the SMC box. Ford was the first to offer a composite boxa small, 4-foot bed on its Explorer Sport Tracin 2000. The following year, GM offered one on its Chevrolet Silverado fullsize pickup. Dubbed Pro-Tec, the GM system was made of urethane-based, structurally reinforced, reaction-injection molding material and was 80-pounds lighter than a steel bed. It was produced by Meridian Automotive Systems, which built a new plant in Huntington, IN, to support the program. But few customers chose the $1,000 option and the composite bed was dropped after two years. Unlike the GM trucks, composite boxes will be standard on Toyota Tacoma and the Honda SUT. Toyota may also use the material for doors, decklids and other closure panels.