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Average vehicle could incorporate 350 kg of plastics by 2020: report

Driven by fuel efficiency and emissions regulations, plastics help automakers design for practicality while appealing to buyers’ emotional needs, a new report by IHS Markit says.


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September 6, 2016 by Canadian Plastics

Driven by increasingly stringent government regulations to meet fuel efficiency standards and reduce carbon emissions, the average car will incorporate nearly 350 kilograms of plastics by 2020, up from 200 kilograms in 2014, according to a new report from chemical researchers at IHS Markit.

“We expect usage of carbon fibre in automotive manufacturing could double from 2015 to 2020,” said Michael Malveda, lead author of the newly published report from IHS Markit, entitled IHS Chemical Carbon Fibres, Chemical Economics Handbook. “Carbon fibre enables vehicles to be made lighter and more fuel efficient, but cost is still an issue. Currently, carbon fibre-reinforced composites are found in limited sports or specialty cars, as well as growing applications in automotive fuel cell technologies, compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, and electric vehicles. We expect the use of carbon fibre composites in mainstream cars and trucks to increase, but improvements will need to be made in carbon fibre processing technology to make it more cost effective for mass-produced automobiles.“

In the U.S., for example, the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards mandate that carmakers’ passenger vehicle fleets average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, and according to estimates from IHS Markit, fuel economy must be improved by approximately 50 per cent across the passenger vehicle fleet. Increasingly, the HIS report said, automakers are employing newer-generation plastics and plastics composites to meet those newer efficiency standards.

“While metal and metal alloys are still critical to automotive design, automakers are finding innovative ways to leverage plastics and composites into their designs to help reduce vehicle weight and improve efficiency,” said Casey Selecman, senior manager of automotive advisory services at IHS Markit. “As efficiency and carbon reduction regulations increase globally, we expect the use of plastics will only increase as the materials improve and production costs are reduced.”

According to the IHS report, cars represent a fast-growing market for the chemicals industry, with global car production expected to rise in the coming years, to more than 110 million units in 2025, up from an estimated 88.7 million in 2015. Much of the growth will come from the fast-expanding Chinese market.

The report said the uses of advanced plastics and composites also give automotive designers a freedom of expression that would be impossible with conventional metals, such as steel and aluminum. “Beyond the practical advantages of using plastics and composites, these materials can greatly enhance the design and aesthetic appeal of cars, and while performance, structural strength and safety are key purchase considerations, buyers also look for designs that appeal to the head and the heart,” it said.

The uses for these materials range from electronic components, through to body panels, lift-gates, seatbacks, centre consoles, interior trim, and even underhood applications. The plastics consumed for automotive manufacturing are often compounded with fibreglass and additives to improve mechanical properties and stability.

The use of carbon fibres and polymer matrix composites enable car-body weight-reductions of an estimated 25 per cent to 70 per cent, and IHS expects the market for carbon fibre in automotive manufacturing to nearly double in the next few years.

The report said that, even with all the recent press regarding the latest applications of light-weighting technologies, “there is still a huge opportunity for automotive light-weighting on the horizon – literally tons of weight yet to be removed from vehicle designs using material substitutions such as innovative plastics composites and carbon fibre technologies. Closures, which are doors, lift-gates and hoods, are the easiest options to significantly reduce vehicle weight, and we see significant opportunities for those as well as non-critical structures such as seats, instrument panels, and under the hood for engine cradles, pans, covers, and so on.”

One of the more obvious recent examples of a major light-weighting success, the report noted, is from Ford, which removed approximately 700 pounds in weight from the F-150 in the last redesign – a feat that was achieved largely through a material substitution in the body and bed.