Chrome is having a bad year.
The European Union (EU) wants to ban chrome plating from 2024, citing health reasons as the main driving force behind the initiative. According to Autocar, it's because of the toxic chemicals released during the material's creation.
While it may not seem like a big deal, it will have a massive impact on the automotive industry. Chrome plating is widely used to differentiate top-spec models from their lesser counterparts, especially on upper-trim trucks like the Ram 1500 Laramie and GMC Sierra 1500 Denali. Tuning and restomodding companies will also feel the impact of this controversial ban.
Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen, often leading to lung cancer. It is apparently 500 times more toxic than diesel emissions. Currently, there's no safe way to produce chrome plating, as all the known procedures release poisonous chemicals.
Besides the automotive world, chrome plating is used around the average house (taps and lighting fixtures). It's also useful in the nautical and aerospace industries. It's a practical material, and by phasing it out, the EU is forcing various large sectors to find an alternative.
Earlier this year, California proposed a similar ban for the same reasons. The proposal was passed in May, meaning any business producing the material must find an alternative, like the less toxic trivalent chromium, or risk fined.
Over 110 chrome-plating facilities exist in the state, meaning the state is facing a severe economic impact if an alternative can't be found. In Europe, a ban would cause an equally significant shift.
Gilles Vidal, Renault's chief of design, doesn't necessarily see it as bad, at least in terms of automotive design. "There are non-polluting solutions being investigated, but I hope there are reasons we can intuitively get away from it," he said. "It's time we changed the game a little bit and opened our minds beyond chrome. There are more sustainable alternatives."
Other automakers agree, and exterior design trends are leaning more toward darker exterior trims. Perhaps chrome plating's time is over. For evidence, look no further than a Lexus LFA completely covered in the stuff.
We're aware of the knock-on effect, however. But necessity is the mother of invention, and the EU and California bans will likely force the development of a non-toxic alternative.