Ross Brindle

There are probably more plastics and composites in your car than you think. They are used in much of the interior of vehicles, as well as exterior parts like bumpers, and are even used in the engine. As plastics technology improves to make parts more cost effective, safer, and stronger, plastics have the potential to displace more steel and other metals, reducing vehicle weight and making cars more fuel efficient. With an increased emphasis on fuel economy and new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that mandate 54.5 mpg by 2025, plastics and composites have the potential to further increase their use in automotives.

In 2001, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) published the Plastics in Automotive Markets Vision and Technology Roadmap, which outlined a vision of the application of plastics in automobiles and the business and technology strategies needed to achieve that vision. Beginning in 2007, ACC began a process to update its Roadmap to reflect a changing global automotive industry and the progress made since 2001. The resulting Plastics in Automotive Markets Technology Roadmap: A New Vision for the Road Ahead, published in 2009, provided updated strategic direction to ACC’s automotive efforts while also providing an important reference document for the broader set of automotive stakeholders seeking to increase the use of plastics and composites in vehicles.

Since the publication of the Plastics in Automotive Markets Technology Roadmap: A New Vision for the Road Ahead in 2009, changing trends and major technology developments have altered the landscape for the future use of plastics and composites in automotive markets. While many of the same forces, such as consumer demand and global competition, continue to shape the automotive market, the marketplace of today is drastically different from what it was only a few years ago. In response to these changing trends and technology advances, by 2018, the revenue from plastics in automotive markets is expected to reach $32.9 billion, which is more than double the 2012 revenue of $15.1 billion.

To help ACC update the 2009 roadmap, we facilitated a 2-day workshop last week in Troy, Michigan. The workshop brought together technical experts and other stakeholders from a broad cross-section of the automotive industry, including original equipment manufacturers, tier suppliers, materials developers, researchers, and consultants, to identify priorities and define a path forward for increasing the use of plastics in automotive markets through 2030.

At the workshop, participants were divided into the following three breakout sessions to enable more detailed discussions about specific automotive systems: Interior and Exterior, Powertrain and Chassis, and Body-in-White. Within each session, participants discussed the current barriers to the increased use of plastics and identified actions that will be necessary to overcome these barriers and help further increase the use of plastics in automotive markets through 2030. Workshop participants continuously emphasized that the plastics industry will not achieve these gains by working in isolation; leveraging the lessons learned from other industries, including aerospace, and working across the supply chain and industries will be critical.

We are currently working on synthesizing the findings from this workshop, phone interviews with other experts, and a literature review to develop a new Plastics in Automotive Markets Roadmap. The roadmap will set a path forward for the plastics industry and identify priority actions that can help increase the use of plastics in cars, ultimately making cars lighter and more fuel efficient. Stay tuned.