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Western Polymers: Get Out Or Get Cleverer?

Business, China, Company Strategy, Economics, Europe, Polyolefins, Styrenics, Sustainability, Technology, US
By John Richardson on 22-Sep-2009



Source of Picture: www.autospies.com

The automobile industry in the West has been bought more time by economic stimulus, as this article in The Economist points out.

But some of the discussions at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, which takes place on 15-27 September, will be about the future of the industry over the next few decades.

Producers face big economic, demographic and fuel-efficiency challenges – and capacity is way ahead of current and projected demand. (separate leader from The Economist with some more useful numbers).

So what might this mean for the polymer industry? Here are a few thoughts:

*Demand for smaller cars will increase. Automakers will need to focus on either ferocious cost cutting and/or adding more sophisticated features if they want to achieve anywhere near the same returns for these smaller vehicles compared with big, luxury lines

*This creates a big opportunity for innovation through both lighter plastics (with stricter fuel-efficiency regulations another motive) and plastics which deliver other design benefits. Added value will no longer be defined by a little bit of extra customer service and the odd clever additive. Breakthrough products will be needed

*Feedstock-advantaged producers will be in an even stronger position to meet what commodity-polymer demand remains

*The Western polymer industry’s own cost-cutting will have to be accelerated in the search for higher R&D funding, and as auto plants close down (since this recession started, there have been no closures in Europe, according to The Economist). Those with their own advantaged-feedstock positions in the Middle East and/or strong footholds in China will be in a better position to generate enough revenues

*The decline in US and European gasoline demand might lead to short-term feedstock advantages as the value of light-ends declines. Longer term, though, refineries will be shut down – potentially pulling the proverbial rug from beneath even those polymer producers with the right technologies (Note: Western gasoline demand is expected to keep falling after the economic crisis is over on tougher fuel-efficiency regulations and ageing populations, etc)