Corrected: Coming upheaval seen for US auto plastics

16 September 2009 18:31  [Source: ICIS news]

The shape of things to comeCorrection: In the ICIS news story headlined “Coming upheaval seen for US auto plastics” dated 16 September 2009, please read in the ninth paragraph … 400m new cars … instead of  … 4000m new cars … A corrected story follows.

TROY, Michigan (ICIS news)--As countries try to increase auto fuel efficiency, the US automotive plastics industry will undergo its own upheaval, a consultant said on Wednesday.

Bob Eller, president of Robert Eller Associates consulting agency, said automotive plastics suppliers can expect to see changes in everything from the types of plastics they make to the shape of the supply chain connecting them to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the next decade. 

“Europe and Asia OEM will gain share in North America,” Eller told an audience at the Society of Plastics Engineers’ (SPE) Automotive Composites Conference and Exhibition. “Market growth has shifted to Asia.”

With the drive toward lighter cars and experiments with electric engines, the US is going to have to play catch up with other countries possessing more strict fuel efficiency standards, Eller said.

New corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards in the US will require all new passenger cars to meet a 39 miles per gallon (mpg) (16.6 km/litre) standard by 2016, up 42% from 27.5mpg currently. Trucks will have to meet a 30 mpg standard, a 30% increase from 23mpg today.

Eller said that still leaves the US behind when it comes to the latest technology for fuel efficiency. The country’s auto manufacturers will have to shop for technology abroad to catch up, he said.

“It’s admirable that we’re increasing our CAFE requirements,” he said. “But we are still considerably behind other portions of the world. That means that technology will be coming from other parts of the world to North America, particularly if the price of oil goes up.”

Eller said he was convinced the price of oil will go up in the long term, if for no other reason than the rise of the middle class in China.

"China now has four cars for every 1,000 people,” Eller said. “Even if Chinese car ownership rates rise to only half of the US ownership rate, that means 400m new cars, and fuel prices will rise.”

There are more than 700 cars for every 1,000 people in the US, according to the United Nations Economic Commission.

And as more automakers incorporate electric battery technology into their vehicles - either in all-electric or gasoline/electric hybrid engines - they will demand light-weight plastic composites to compensate for the increased vehicle weight, Eller said.

“I truly believe carbon fibre thermoplastics composites are on the grow,” Eller said. “They will come into the market as hybrids with glass fibre. And the penetration of glass fibre-based long glass is going to bring in various kinds of biopolymers.” 

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