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How is the demand for the use of plastics in the automotive industry shaping up? 

10 June 2022

Market analyses show that the automotive industry's demand for plastic parts is growing rapidly. It is estimated that by 2026 the automotive plastics market will be worth as much as $68.6 billion, compared to $48.7 billion in 2018.  

What is the reason for the rapid growth of the automotive plastics market? 

Such a result does not surprise when you consider that the use of plastics in cars allows them to reduce weight, which translates into the desired effect of lower combustion and longer ranges. It is estimated that in 2020 plastics already accounted for as much as 50% of the volume of new cars and only 10% of its weight. Car parts made of various types of plastics are not only lightweight, but also durable and provide design freedom. However, the primary "engine" driving the development of this market for the future is, first and foremost, the continued effort to reduce CO2 and the rapid growth of the electric car sector. Moreover, if we consider such properties of many types of plastics as impact damping, sound insulation or mechanical strength, it becomes clear why they have become one of the most desirable materials for automobiles. Global sales in the plastics market in 2021 amounted to about 71.4 million products, compared to 63.8 in 2019. 

What types of plastics are most commonly used in automobiles? 

The use of plastics in automobiles today is very broad and includes different types of plastics, which are used to produce both external car parts and those used in the interior of a car.  

What are the types of plastics used in automotive applications? 

Such materials include, for example, polyethylene, which is used for under-bonnet components and fuel lines, polyurethane, which is used for seats and padding, or ABS, which is used for bumpers, grilles and roof panels. The most popular type of plastic in cars, however, is polypropylene, which has traditionally been used for bumpers and lighting as well as many other components. In 2020, it even became the most sought-after plastic in the automotive market. This market is expected to be worth as much as $13.5 billion by 2026. Demand is also growing for automotive parts made from partially or fully recycled plastics, which are increasingly replacing materials with high carbon footprint. Therefore, manufacturers of plastic automotive parts face a formidable challenge to innovate further so that they can keep up with the ever-growing needs of the automotive market. 

Revolutionary plastic in the automotive industry – EPP  

At Knauf Industries, we have succeeded in significantly expanding the use of PP plastic by offering innovative automotive parts made of foamed polypropylene (EPP) with significantly improved mechanical and strength properties. EPP is a deformation- and mechanical damage-resistant material with a foam structure, with as much as 95% of its volume consisting of air. As a result, it combines minimal weight with exceptional strength and excellent insulation properties, increasing the use of plastics in automotive applications. Different densities of the raw material are available, which allows you to precisely adjust the parameters related to mechanical resistance, thermal conductivity coefficient or acoustics. This material perfectly dampens all shocks, and in case of impact it does not undergo permanent deformation, but returns to its previous shape. As a result, it is exceptionally popular for passive safety system components, such as car seat fillings, headrests, bumper dampers or door panels. In addition, it prevents electrical punctures and can acquire antistatic properties to protect electronic systems from damage. 

What are some other possible uses for plastics in automobiles? 

Due to its strength, EPP can successfully replace metal sheets or relatively heavy components made of traditional types of plastics, such as hard plastic, standard PUR foams or rubber and caoutchouc, in some applications. Thanks to modern tools and extremely cost-effective pressure molding technology, we are able to produce any size of plastic automotive parts, even in very complex shapes or dyed in the color of your choice. At the same time, EPP is 100% recyclable, so it fully meets the strictest customer requirements in terms of sustainability. This is a true material of tomorrow, which is already largely responsible for the dynamic development of the plastics market, as it provides a variety of benefits especially for manufacturers of electric and autonomous cars. Our state-of-the-art production lines make it possible to combine EPP with other types of plastics in a single process, which opens up even wider possibilities for manufacturing, for example, seats with special reinforcements or inserts already embedded, or other innovative components for cars of the future

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