Car buyers are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to the functionality and design of their vehicles. At the same time, governments are enforcing more stringent regulations on vehicular emissions. All these trends are driving the demand for plastics in automotive industry, says Rakesh Rao.
India is on the cusp of a transformation in the automobile industry. The passenger vehicle sale in India has crossed the 3 million mark. While on the other end, the government has announced incentive programs for purchase of electric and hybrid vehicles under the FAME-India scheme. Government is also mulling over setting up a company that will purchase EVs and lease them to car rental and hire service operators. In fact, the government envisions that petrol and diesel cars will become obsolete by 2030. “Such developments demand innovations from the manufacturers. Innovations, which demand light weighting and customisation in a vehicle, backed by government policies will drive major demand for plastics in the automotive industry,” opines Ajay Durrani, Managing Director, Covestro (India) Pvt Ltd.
Increasingly auto makers are preferring plastics in their designs to meet the demands of price-sensitive customers and requirements of stringent regulations regarding carbon emissions. Durrani explains, “The demand for personalised mobility continues to grow worldwide. Car buyers also are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to the functionality and design of their vehicles. Both of these trends make it necessary to totally re-think the materials used in automotive engineering today. New technologies are the main growth drivers for any business. Now with automotive industry being on the verge of a revolutionary change, manufacturers are demanding for more quality materials.”
While several types of plastics find application in the automotive industry, polypropylene, polyurethane and PVC together make up approximately 66 per cent of the total plastics used in a vehicle. “Efficient lightweight technologies play a more central role for electric cars than they do for those with a combustion engine because the heavy weight of the batteries must be compensated for elsewhere in a vehicle. High-tech materials contribute in a variety of ways: rigid and flexible polyurethane foams, structural components made of polyurethane/carbon composites, and polycarbonate as a substitute for glass and metal. Now traditional solvents are being replaced by eco-friendly solvents. All these innovative technologies reduce weight and therefore increase efficiency compared to conventional materials,” adds Ajay Durrani.
According to MarketsandMarkets, the polyamide (PA) type segment is projected to grow at the highest CAGR during 2018-2023. Polyamide is commonly known as nylon and finds major usage in automotive components due to its excellent mechanical properties and flexibility. Polyamides are increasingly being used in combination with other thermoplastics, such as polyphenylene ether (PPE), to enhance the performance of automotive plastics, resulting in their increasing demand.
Jitender Bharihoke, General Manager India for Solvay’s Performance Polyamides GBU, states, “In India, we still consume barely 7 kg of PA compounds in a car which is much lower than about 12 kg in Europe and other countries. So, there is already a lot of opportunities in terms of catching up that we have to do. As we move to higher end from a small car manufacturing base, we will find that a lot of applications converting to PA especially as the engines get smaller and there is a need to integrate functions. Hence, high-temperature plastics will play a key role. There are also other convention applications like engine mount and oil pan which are now converting to PAs. In fact, even applications like wheel covers which had moved to low cost plastics are now returning to PA66 based compounds and customers realise that the wheel traction creates a lot of heat which these needs PA66 type of compound to endure the temperatures.”
While France and Germany plans to ban vehicles running on petrol/diesel by 2040, India intends to ban ‘non-green vehicles’ by 2030. And even China, which produces about 30 per cent of the worldwide vehicles, intends to develop a similar strategy. It is estimated that 15 per cent of the global car production will be electric or hybrid by 2025 which represents 16 million vehicles. These decisions have a huge impact on OEMs strategies. In India as well auto makers are gearing up with new launches in electric vehicle space. For example in India, Maruti and Toyota team up to introduce electric cars, Mahindra & Mahindra, Ashok Leyland are speeding up the development of their own electric vehicle (EV) platform.
“But, even with the right infrastructure, India’s EV dream needs to shed some weight. The performance of an electric vehicle needs a fascinating amalgamation of aerodynamics and acoustics. It’s not just necessary to make it look attractive; you need to have the right materials to make it lightweight to be more efficient in terms of the performance (mileage/distance per charge) of the vehicle, insulation, battery thermal management, flammability performance etc,” opines Ajay Durrani.
EVs, though still at a nascent stage, will throw up a different set of opportunities like connectors and components around the battery areas where the temperatures are high. Material manufacturers are working closely with OEMs and tier suppliers to tap these opportunities.
“E-mobility is a priority for us. Our strategic segments thermal management solutions, metal replacement, fire protection, and fluid barriers are aligned to support this new field. We are also developing new solutions to support our customers and answer to their new needs. For example, we are introducing to the market a range of signal orange grades for high voltage applications (connectors, circuit breakers, busbars, etc). We are also developing a full range of electro-friendly materials for sensors and connectors and even high-purity materials for fuel cell applications. Lightweight is also becoming more important than ever. Every single kilo saved is additional autonomy. Thus we are working on breakthrough solutions of PA66 that will help customers to further develop lighter components,” says Jitender Bharihoke.
Plastics machinery makers are also gearing up to ride on the electrification wave. “The progressive substitution of material in high-tech applications, which among others includes automotive lightweight construction, is also contributing to our growth. Plastics and injection moulding are important for electromobility. Investment is increasing, especially in the automotive industry and in the production of high-performance products in the area of technical moulding. In the first quarter of this year, ENGEL India recorded the highest volume of orders in the history of the subsidiary,” says Dr Christoph Steger, Chief Sales Officer (CSO), ENGEL Holding GmbH, which provides injection moulding technology – for thermoplastics, thermosets and elastomer processing - in automotive.
Jitender Bharihoke states, “With higher emissions norms the engines get smaller in size and create more heat which in turn needs high performance plastics which can endure heat. We have been on the fore front of developing such products with our Technyl Red which can deliver performance even at 220°C.”
Road traffic generates one-fifth of global CO2 emissions, and this figure is on the rise. “Shared mobility will prove to be vital in reducing these emissions. A car that is just 10 per cent lighter consumes about five per cent less fuel. Ever since the early days of automotive manufacturing, glass and metal have been the dominant materials in exterior vehicle design. But innovative technologies today offer intelligent alternatives to conventional materials. These alternatives enhance efficiency, sustainability and creative freedom in designing the body of a vehicle. The result is entirely new opportunities for designing increasingly lightweight and aerodynamic automotive components,” explains Ajay Durrani.
Ajay Durrani says, “In the automotive industry, the normal growth rate would be 10-12 per cent and we exceed it as we try to replace the conventional way of how materials are being used and there is always an opportunity to grow more than the industry.”
The industry is advancing towards developing modern age eco-friendly solutions as the Indian Government frames rules to supports sustainable development. With rise in demand for customisation and creating a premium experience in the car, the automotive plastics market is expected to be propelled further.
By 2020, the average car will incorporate nearly 350 kg of plastics, up from 200 kg in 2014. And this is where high-tech materials from Covestro come into play: in terms of performance, safety, comfort and appearance, they offer a world of new possibilities for many components in a vehicle. The demand for these materials is on the rise also due to increase in adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles. Government’s initiatives like FAME will also smoothen the transition between combustion engines to electric engines, thus increasing the demand for polymers used in the automobile industry,” said Ajay Durrani.