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Chemical Applications in the Automotive Industry Are a Focal Point at Chinaplas
7:08 AM MDT | April 30, 2012 | By ANNA AN, ANALYST, IHS CHEMICAL CONSULTING, SHANGHAI
Chemical applications in the automotive industry were a focal point at the 26th Chinaplas exhibition on China's plastics and rubber industry, held April 18-21 in Shanghai. Many multinational chemical companies showcased newly developed products, together with car models, at the exhibition. These included the smart car by BASF, a lightweight high-performance sports car by Lotus and Evonik, and a concept car by Teijin. Various car components were shown at Chinaplas including an instrument panel and door-panel frame by Styron, a detailed illustration of plastic applications under the engine cover by Toray, and Samsung’s panorama sunroof sample. Many other companies showed vehicle bumpers and car lights. All of these elements made Chinaplas, a chemical exhibition, seem more like an auto show, and they left a deep impression on visitors. However, the absence of Chinese producers demonstrating chemical applications for the automotive industry provided food for thought.
China became the world’s largest automotive market in 2011. It has a large population base but a low car density. Only 31 people per 1,000 currently own a car in China. Car density in the U.S. is 424 per 1,000 people. The car market growth rate is starting to slow due to China’s economic soft landing, but the market’s potential is still promising. More and more car producers are making investment plans in China. Most recently, Ford announced plans to invest $760 million in a new plant at Hangzhou, and Honda announced that it would invest $560 million to expand its Guangzhou Honda Automobile plant.
Automotive market opportunities for plastics mainly exist in polypropylene (PP), nylon, polycarbonate (PC), polyurethane, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. PP accounts for the largest portion of plastic materials used in China’s automotive industry. A lack of domestic technological know-how means that Chinese car manufacturers have for a long time depended largely on imports of high-performance PP material. Certain domestic chemical companies such as Kingfa have taken steps in technology innovation to develop high-performance PP materials and composites for the automotive industry. They have achieved a certain degree of success. However, they have a long way to go to catch up with multinational advanced material companies.
Nylon-6 and nylon-6,6 are the most widely used nylon engineering plastics in vehicles. Nylon-12 has become higher profile in recent years, especially after the March 2012 accident at Evonik’s cyclododecatriene plant in Germany, which may lead to a shortage of nylon-12. Certain companies are, as a result, shifting their eyes to China with possible plans to source from China.
PC applications in the automotive industry are well matched to future trends toward lightweight vehicles. The weight of a PC car window is only 50% that of a glass window. PC-based car windows are forecast to become the next driving force after PC demand for compact disks faded since the 1990s and PC has been banned in applications for baby bottles. However, the PC car window is still in the early development stage and it may take several years to substitute for glass windows as older car models are phased out. There are many other promising materials in automotive applications such as CFRP, and battery materials in electric cars.
As the automotive industry grows in China, demand from the industry has become a more and more significant factor in China’s chemical market. Global chemical giants are emphasizing their offering to China's automotive industry in terms of chemical applications. Chinaplas is a good example.