Peering into the Future of Plastics in the Automotive Industry

According to an old Danish proverb, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” This may be true, but if a business is to survive in this world of rapidly changing technology, one must attempt to predict the future and prepare its business for the changes coming.

The plastics industry is no different, especially those focused on the automotive industry. Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, recognizes the need to prepare for the future. In a recent interview, Craig Carrel, President, talked about the changes he sees coming, “Team 1 is excited about the future. There are tremendous changes coming in the automotive marketplace that will create new opportunities for our business to grow and provide value to our Tier 1 customers. The key is to be working with the best Tier 1 customers so that we are partnering with them on the new technology and will be prepared for these changes.”

Although one can’t know exactly what the future holds for the automotive industry, current emerging technology and upcoming governmental mandates do provide a glimpse into it.

According to the CNN 10: Future in Driving report, “A new wave of innovation, led by carmakers and automotive-tech companies, is transforming the driving experience. Thanks largely to on-board computers, our vehicles are becoming smarter, nimbler, safer and more fun … Fully self-driving cars remain some years away. But new technology in the next five to 10 years will help cars park themselves, monitor the alertness of the driver and even communicate with each other to avoid collisions.”

The YouTube video, Together We Ride, released by Nissan Newsroom in October 2015, gives a clear picture of what this car manufacturer believes is the future of automobiles. “We envision a world where you share your journey with your car, not as a tool, but as a partner. It’s not just about potential about what could be, may be, or what’s possible. This is a promise of a future that’s smarter. Safer. Easier. And absolutely electrifying.”

Emerging technology has allowed car manufacturers to already add many new sensors — things like, monitoring the traffic around the car (cars talking to each other), monitoring the driver’s health and distractedness, and personalizing the interior environment of the car (learning the driver’s preferences and automatically adjusting to them).

According to Carrel, “Plastic is a key component of these types of sensors and provides the framework and structure for them.” He then addressed the future of self-driving cars. “We are seeing rapid advancement in systems that will take more control of driving away from the driver. Many are already being added to cars, and more is projected over the coming years. These systems will employ lots of sensors — cameras, radar, etc. They all will have some plastic components.”

Plastic is also a key component in helping car manufacturers achieve the 2025 fuel economy requirements by Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE). According to its website, “Enacted by Congress in 1975, CAFE’s purpose is to reduce energy consumption by increasing the fuel economy of cars and light trucks … which will improve our nation’s energy security and save consumers money at the pump.”

In August 2012, announced that the Obama Administration “finalized groundbreaking standards that will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025.”

“Because of their light weight and versatile properties, especially with the upcoming CAFE requirements to 55 mpg by 2025, plastics will continue to play a key role in automobiles,” said Carrel. “We are seeing a renewed interest in material replacement using plastics to help reduce the vehicle weight to improve gas mileage.”

Carrel then addressed the emergence of hybrids, electric cars, and non-traditional fuel cars. “Currently they do not play a significant role in the automotive market, less than 5% market share, but all the major car companies have developed an electric vehicle as one way to achieve the 55 mpg CAFE requirement. No one is predicting they will significantly increase their market share over the next five years, especially if gas prices remain low, but they will continue to grow in importance. The key will be to lower their cost while increasing their range to 300 miles per charge to be competitive with traditional gas engines.”

Automotive industry expert, McKinney & Company, agrees with Carrel. In its January 2016 report, “Automotive revolution – perspective towards 2030,” electrified powertrains are discussed. “Stricter emission regulations, lower battery costs, widely available charging stations, and increasing consumer acceptance will create new and strong momentum for penetration of electrified vehicles (hybrid, plug-in, battery electric, and fuel cell) in the coming years … Over the next decade, electrified vehicles will achieve cost competitiveness with conventional vehicles, creating the most significant catalyst for market penetration. Advances in charging technology, range, and awareness will further improve the customer value proposition.”

The report continued, “At the same time, it is important to note that electrified vehicles include a large portion of hybrid electrics, which means that even beyond 2030, the internal combustion engine will remain very relevant.”

Good news for Team 1 Plastics. “A full electric car has a lot less components, metal and plastic, and would be a major shift for companies like Team 1 who supply a lot of precision plastic components in the traditional gas engine,” remarked Carrel. “The key to the future is to make sure we remain diversified across many vehicle systems, Tier 1 customers, and OEMs to take advantage more of the opportunities and minimize the risk with all the significant automotive market changes. We need to make sure we are providing the ‘best overall value’ today, but we also need to make sure we have an ongoing dialogue with them about their future technology and systems and how can we help them become even more successful.”

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927 Elliott Road
Albion, Michigan 49224-9506

Phone: (517) 629-2178