Autos are now the largest single global market for chemical and polymer sales, after the slowdown in US and European housing. Each US auto is worth $3636 to the industry, according to American Chemistry Council data. Thus the US market was worth a record $52.7bn in 2012, with auto sales totalling nearly 14.5m.
Overall, as the chart shows:
Combined sales in these 3 main regions were up 4% versus 2011 at 41.2m. They also accounted for 58% of total global sales of 71.2m (based on first estimates from industry analysts Polk).
The chart also highlights the continuing volatility in regional sales. It is hard to believe today, but the EU was the largest market in 2009, due to government stimulus measures. Yet in 2012, European sales were back at 1995 levels. Of the major markets, only the UK showed growth (up 5%). Germany was down 3%, Spain down 13%, France down 14%, and Italy down 20%.
This volatility makes forecasting very difficult. We are a long way from the steady growth seen until 2007, where any modest drop in one year would be followed by a quick recovery. Today, there is little sign of 'pent-up demand' returning quickly. Instead, Polk forecast 2013 volumes up just 2.5%, due to the continuing slowdown in the EU, and only modest growth in the US and China.