Fuel isn't the only substance in a car made from oil. Many synthetic plastics are also petroleum-derived, and automakers are looking to recycling as a way of reducing the costs of the flexible material.

So far the plans don't include much in the way of using recycled plastic on the user-interface surfaces inside the car, but primarily on the more elemental structures such as splash guards, bumpers and engine covers.

In that regard, recycling plastic is simply a step in line with the use of recycled steel and aluminum, which are already common products in automotive manufacture.

The savings derived from the recycled plastic can be small, at just a few cents per pound, or quite significant, amounting to up to half the price of the plastic, reports the Detroit Free Press. In addition, the carmakers and suppliers themselves can recapture material that previously would have been lost, collecting shavings and dust from the manufacturing process and melting it back down into whole plastic.

Along a similar vein, Mazda recently announced its commitment to research in bio-plastics, which rely on plant-derived substances instead of petroleum. Previously very expensive, the rising price of oil through 2008 has made their development more cost-effective, and in the long term the move could have strong financial as well as ecological benefits. Mazda says it is committed to ensuring the plants used do not impinge on food resources, and also to making a product that is in every way the equal or superior of conventional materials, while less harmful to the environment.

Those are lofty goals, but alongside the use of recycled materials the future of the automotive industry is in alternative resources, with the programs of today developing the materials and fabrics that will be in cars tomorrow.