The growth of the automotive industry and its impact on plastics

The growth of the automotive industry and its impact on plastics

The UK’s car manufacturing industry has witnessed a 17-year high in production last year. In 2016, a total of 1.7 million vehicles were produced, the highest total since 1999. And the progression has continued this year – in March 2017, there were over 170,691 cars produced on UK production lines, a 7.3% increase on March 2016.

The manufacturing success is driven by an overseas demand – of the 170,691 cars produced in March, 130,000 were shipped abroad. This is good for our global exporting but the domestic demand continues to trail behind. 44% of all components used on the production line are British made. Whilst the domestic demand isn’t what’s driving the rate of production, it is the domestic supply chain that is driving the UK’s automotive industry.

This is continuous progress for UK suppliers, with domestic suppliers being used 8% more than in 2011. Plastics is just one of the industries that is experiencing this growth. Plastics have been used in the automotive industry for years because of their durable and strong characteristics, and its ability to resist impact and corrosion.

But what does the future look like for plastics in the automotive industry? Injection moulding specialists, Omega Plastics explores how the continuous growth of the automotive sector is impacting the plastic industry both now and in the future.


The current market for plastics in vehicles

As a result of the strong position the UK’s car manufacturing industry is in, the demand for materials has also seen positive incline. The average light vehicle now contains 334 pounds of plastics and polymer composites, making up 8.4% of the total vehicle weight and approximately 50% of total vehicle volume.

In the UK, suppliers of plastic are contributing to more fuel-efficient vehicles – lightweight plastics help vehicles reduce fuel usage. And with the current economic and environmental concerns, especially following news that the UK plan to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2040, producing vehicles that are more fuel efficient is a top priority, proving there is a place for plastics in the motoring industry right now.

Plastics are also used within the industry to improve car safety, sustainability, style and innovation. With so many uses, does the future look bright for plastics in the automotive industry?

The future of plastics in vehicles

By 2020, the use of plastics in vehicles is expected to grow by a huge 75%. In 2014, the average car contained 200kg of plastic, this is expected to rise to 350kg. This could be down to the industry’s plan to replace glass with polycarbonate, and reduce the use of metal materials. Currently, the majority of vehicles already have polycarbonate headlamp and rear lamps, but an effort to change car windows is the next target for the industry.

Some plastics can weigh up to 50% less than similar components that are made from alternative materials. With an aim to reduce the weight of vehicles in a bid to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, it’s no wonder that we expect to see the use of carbon fibre in car manufacturing triple by 2030 to 9,800 tonnes. This is because using carbon fibre could reduce a car’s bodyweight by up to 70%. With this in mind, this is the reason behind the industry’s aim to replace metal materials with high performance plastics – this should secure plastic supply chains within the automotive industry.

Global demand is currently driving UK car manufacturing. Expected to continue to rise and nearly double by 2020, from 56.9 million vehicles in 2003 to 104.1 million units by 2020, manufacturers will need to incorporate more plastics into each unit to abide by governments regulations. With car glass and interiors already applying plastic alternatives in production, it’s time to consider these materials for body panels, which are currently generally made from metal materials – leading to ‘ingenious’ developments.

If demand continues, and regulations continue to put fuel efficiency at the forefront of manufacturer’s mind, the 75% expected growth of plastics by 2020 within the industry seems achievable. The future of plastics within the automotive industry looks positive.




Leave a Reply