21 June 2013 16:48 [Source: ICB]
Increasing car ownership and government-mandated improvements in fuel efficiency will drive future demand for engineering plastics
Brazil is known for its incredible variety of tropical fruits, from mangoes to papayas. But there is a scrumptious low-hanging fruit in the South American nation that has engineered plastics producers salivating - its automobile industry.
Excitement over the prospects of increased use of engineered polymers such as polycarbonate (PC), nylon 6 and nylon 6,6 in Brazil and South America has companies such as BASF, INVISTA and LANXESS fervently pushing their products in the region.
More people are buying cars and looking for better amenities - good news for Brazil's engineering plastics market
One presenter who came armed with a truckload of engineered auto parts and a wealth of statistics was Andreas Scheurell, LANXESS' general manager of high-performance materials in Latin America.
He made the trip all the way from Pennsylvania, US, because of the importance of South America - and Brazil in particular - to the global producer.
In 2005, the company's sales in Brazil were just 1% of the group's overall revenue, he said. Eight years later, Brazil sales are 10% of the pie and growing.
About 3.4m cars/year are manufactured in Brazil and 800,000/year in Argentina, Scheurell said, and some 700 new cars hit the road every day in Sao Paulo state alone, an area with a population of more than 41m people. "I always say my business is within 100 square kilometers - the state of Sao Paulo," Scheurell said.
And there is much business to be had as the country looks to make its new vehicles more fuel efficient. One way is to make vehicles lighter. This trend had not hit South America until now - and thus provides companies such as LANXESS with a prime opportunity.
"A typical front end as a structure of the car where you have the lamps and the radiator This entire front structure here in Brazil is basically a full-steel structure. You use different stampings of steel and then you have to weld them together to get a very heavy product," Scheurell said.
"In Europe, in America, in Asia, we have these plastic-metal hybrid front ends," he added. "We use just the minimum amount of steel, basically U-shaped, and fill it inside with plastic webs. They look a little bit like honeycomb, and they're strong."
Steel, like most everything else, is not a cheap commodity in Brazil, but engineered plastics have not been a cost-saving proposition either.
But in 2012, Brazil mandated that automakers improve fuel efficiency by 12% among new cars over the next five years or face a steep hike in taxes.
The new rules changed automakers' questions on use of engineered plastics in vehicles produced in the country from "Why?" to "How?" Scheurell said. "Every [automaking customer] is coming to us and asking, 'How can we do this?'" he said.
Government regulations are not the only driver in the move toward more automotive plastics. Brazilian customers are demanding more amenities in their vehicles - features that drivers in other parts of the world take for granted.
"The [Brazilian] consumer wants not one airbag, or next year, the mandated two airbags. The consumer wants four, six airbags," Scheurell said. "The consumer wants safety features. The consumer wants air conditioning, automatic transmission, Bluetooth."
Those features require a great deal of engineered plastics - a lot of low-hanging fruit.
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