The demand for polymers and composites in the North American automotive market has risen from 5235 million pounds in 2008 to 7135 million pounds. This is predicted to rise to 8020 million pounds by 2018. This represents a percentage annual growth rate of 6.4% from 2008-2013, with a predicted increase of 2.4% from 2013-2018.

Engineering plastics will remain the leading polymer type through the forecast period, having successfully supplanted metals in a number of applications based on advantages such as their ability to enhance design freedom. Demand for high-performance composites will rise rapidly from a small base due to the materials’ substantial vehicle weight savings potential, although their high cost will remain an obstacle to more widespread adoption.

According to analyst Bridget McMurtrie: “Advances will significantly outpace gains in automotive materials overall. Regulatory pressure will be the major force propelling growth.”

The current race to lighten the automobile is largely being driven by the increasingly strict fuel economy standards being adopted throughout North America. These and other trends are presented in Lightweight Automotive Materials in North America, a new study from The Freedonia Group, Inc., a Cleveland-based market research firm.

The best growth prospects are forecast for exterior and structural components, propelled by the ongoing development of lightweight materials suitable for use in structural applications and the substantial weight savings such materials can provide.

In fact, this segment will account for nearly three-quarters of total average vehicle weight reduction through 2023, with body and frame applications alone accounting for about half. Interior applications are relatively mature and will see only limited growth going forward, as plastics have long been used in interior components, thus restricting opportunities for further weight reduction.