The rapid electrification of automotive transport, which is being promoted by numerous countries, is a challenge for the automotive industry, but also for many other sectors: Vehicle manufacturers are not only the main customers for steel, glass, and tire rubber, but increasingly also for plastics. Even small changes in the raw materials that are used can have significant economic effects. In 2020, around 14.3 million new passenger cars were registered in Europe. In 2017, this figure even exceeded 18 million units. The market research company Ceresana has now specifically examined the European market for plastics used in passenger cars.
Plastics instead of Steel in Vehicles
Electric drives use far fewer components than internal combustion engines, and they also change the requirements for raw materials: Less heat in the engine compartment means, for example, that cheaper polymers can be used in some places instead of metals and expensive engineering plastics. Lightweight plastic parts are preferred in electric cars as a way of compensating for the weight of the batteries, which is still a problem. Although the autonomous and fully connected car is still a vision of the future, the number of electrical displays and sensors is already growing steadily. Even batteries contain a lot of plastic in the form of rolled or folded films.
Complex Mobility Market
The demand for plastics for passenger cars is subject to many different factors. First and foremost is the number of new vehicles produced, which plummeted temporarily in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic. In addition to the production of new vehicles, other key figures also determine the plastic consumption of the automotive sector in a given country, such as the current number of passenger cars and the number of driven kilometers. The average age of cars determines, for example, the demand for plastic spare parts, which are needed for repairs. Car sharing and new mobility concepts also have an impact on car sales.
Polypropylene in Pole Position
The most widely used automotive plastic is polypropylene (PP), which is used, for example, for bumpers and lighting. For polyethylene (PE), the trend towards electric cars may become a threat: the grades HDPE, LDPE, and LLDPE are used in combustion cars, especially in the engine compartment and for fuel systems. PUR, on the other hand, is mainly used for seats and upholstery. This latest study by Ceresana also analyzes market data for ABS, PA, PVC, PC, PMMA, as well as other plastics used in the automotive industry. The market data also takes into account the different application areas and fuel types. The study includes all plastic components that are manufactured by suppliers or vehicle manufacturers and then installed in passenger cars, both for new vehicles and for replacement parts.