Composites have growth room in US automotive industry

Author: Zachary Moore


INDIANAPOLIS (ICIS)--Composite materials have strong growth potential in the automotive industry, according to a paper presented on Tuesday by Marc Benevento at the Adhesives and Sealant Council's (ASC) fall convention and expo in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Benevento, with Ohio-based consultancy Industrial Market Insight, said that the majority of automobiles are manufactured as stamped metal unibodies whereas body-on-frame designs are mostly confined to smaller volume segments of the industry such as heavy trucks and high end sports cars. 

However, Benevento said that composite bodies have some excellent opportunities for growth, especially with the help of appropriate adhesives and sealants.

Consumer preferences and safety regulations are tending to increase the average weight of automobiles whereas fuel economy regulations are pressuring manufacturers to keep down vehicle weight, Benevento said.

The need to keep down vehicle weight provides an excellent opportunity for composite designs, he added.

Benevento highlighted that the use of composite bodies bonded with adhesives can produce much quieter cars compared with the use of metal bodies. He added that weld bonding extends the life of many automotive parts relative to spot welding. 

Composite designs also often offer lower tooling costs compared to metal unibody designs.

Turning to complications regarding the wider use of composite bodies, Benevento highlighted that automotive manufacturers face difficulties simulating designs utilising welded composite bodies and that unibody designs are easier to simulate and therefore to design. 

Another hurdle to the greater use of composite bodies relates to painting. Composite bodies assembled prior to painting can face challenges due to uneven thermal expansion of different materials. Benevento added that painting is often the most energy intensive part of the automotive manufacturing process and exposes the materials to high temperatures.

Touching on recent trends in automotive body designs, Benevento said that mild steel has been losing market share to high strength steel and aluminum in car bodies. More automobiles are also being designed as multi-material, a fact that also holds out hope for improved utilisation of composites.

The automotive industry is a major global consumer of petrochemicals which contributes more than a third of the raw material costs of an average vehicle. ICIS tracks the movement of petrochemical raw material costs in auto production both globally and regionally with the weighted ICIS Basket of Automotive Petrochemicals (IBAP).

ICIS produces a monthly Global Automotive report covering the major automotive chemicals markets, the auto-industry, the IBAPs and macroeconomic trends. For more information on the report and details on how to subscribe, please click here.