The use of engineering plastics to replace metal components in cars in India is slated to rise in double digits in the coming three to four years, riding mainly on the initiatives taken by original equipment manufacturers to reduce weight of the vehicles. Industry insiders say that engineering plastics industry roughly grows at two times the auto production in the country.
According to Sanjay Jain, business director, India of Dutch diversified firm Royal DSM, the average use of engineering plastic (excluding ABS, POM, PC, PP reinforced) components in cars in India is around 5-6 kg at the moment, compared to that of 18-20 kg per car in developed nations.
“There is hence, huge scope for growth in India in the engineering plastics space, especially in the automotive arena,” he said. Jain feels that the two demand drivers for engineering plastics in the Indian auto industry would be one through growth in production of automobiles and second through increase in penetration (replacing metal components with plastic ones). “Based on these two factors we expect the growth to be in double digits in the coming year. Based on past experience, the engineering plastics industry roughly grows at two times the auto production in the country,” he added.
As Abdul Majeed, leader, automotive, PwC India says, “The use of plastics is likely to grow as OEMs bid to reduce prices as well as look at reducing costs. However, this would need more innovation at the suppliers’ end and with the uncertain times, there has hardly been any investment on innovation.” He, however, feels that there would some consolidation at the supplier side, and more funds could flow into developing products that would replace metal parts.
As for DSM, Jain says that they are already working with several global OEMs who are gradually replacing metal parts with engineering plastic components. “For example, we supply crankshaft covers for Volkswagen, which earlier used to be made of aluminium, and now it is made of plastic. This has resulted in weight reduction of around 40 per cent of the part,” Jain explained. Similar components can be developed for the air-management systems of the cars.
However, the industry feels that there are a few hard and soft factors which are hindering this growth. First is the technical capability and innovation focus of the automotive value chain, that is still limited. However, the last five years has seen lot of MNC tier -I suppliers entering India and setting up manufacturing as well as R&D footprint in India, and the Indian Tier I suppliers are getting access to design capability and technology either via JVs, technical collaboration and acquisitions abroad.
“Also on the softer side there is still lot of metal mindset in the entire value chain and we as engineering plastic industry need to further step up on coming with more compelling value propositions supported by modern simulations, capable R&D setup to overcome this mindset issue,” Jain said.
DSM has been working with all Major OEMs and Tier1s in the country since 1999 and even earlier through Cenka Plastics (1982). In the past 4-5 years the demand has been increasing in single digits though the growth in automotive production has been more or less stable. OEMs, on their part, confirm that the trend indeed is towards increasing use of plastic components. As P Balendran, vice president, corporate affairs, General Motors said, “The order of the day is that technology has to reduce the weight of the vehicles, and the move would be towards using more plastic components as well as aluminium to help in weight reduction.”
According to KK Mishra, chief executive officer at Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association (ATIRA), use of polymer and composites in automobiles could drastically reduce a car’s weight. The research organisation is already engaged in innovation for use of plastics, polymer and composites in the automobile industry, along with 3-4 German firms and plans to collaborate with the automobile industry for use of such innovations.
“Not only can the weight of the car be reduced by almost 50 per cent by use of plastics, polymer and composites, but also enhance fuel efficiency by about 30-40 per cent per kilometer. The industry is increasingly looking at such a cost effective alternative and innovations in this area are being encouraged,” said Mishra.
According to Wim Roels, CEO Borouge a leading provider of innovative, value creating plastics solutions, the company is also looking at tapping the automotive sector in India. A joint venture between the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), one of the world’s major oil and gas companies, and Austria based Borealis, a leading provider of chemical and innovative plastics solutions, Borouge is at the forefront of the next generation of plastics innovation.
“We have developed a strong position in China in the automotive sector. We are now exploring opportunities in India with regards to auto and auto component products. We hope the auto sector will comeback in India. We are looking at offering advanced reinforced poly propylene which could replace metal in cases like dashboards in cars. They are lighter, easy to produce and cost effective,” added Roels.