Plastics Industry Positioned to Meet Growing Demands of Automotive Sector | Trade and Industry Development

Plastics Industry Positioned to Meet Growing Demands of Automotive Sector

May 28, 2015

The Plastics Industry Trade Association released a report today titled, “Plastics Market Watch: Plastics in the Fast Lane,” that anticipates an increased use of plastics in automobiles as economic and demographic forces converge in conjunction with consumers and the government demanding lighter, more competitively priced vehicles. The plastics manufacturing industry is well-positioned to meet the potential demand of the automobile industry due to technological advances driving a growing manufacturing sector.

 “The plastics industry, which is the third largest sector of U.S. manufacturing in dollar value of shipments, is in the vanguard of innovation and nowhere is that more conspicuous than in the automotive/transportation industry,” said William R. Carteaux, SPI president and CEO, noting that plastics make up about 50 percent of a modern automobile’s volume, but only 10 percent of its weight.

A glance inside any modern car or truck shows the interior compartment to be dominated by plastics – instrument panels, interior trim and upholstery. Plastics are also used in lighting, bumper systems, fuel storage and delivery systems, ducts, fenders and exterior body panels, and more and more within engine compartments or other under-the-hood components. 

Other research in the report is based upon the work of Ken Gronbach, a marketing expert and author who studies demographic and cultural trends to predict buying habits. His research shows that the Millennial Generation (born 1981 to 2000) has “no great love affair with the automobile and when asked what they would give up first, their car or their phone, their answer is almost always unanimous: their car.” Still, Gronbach said, “Some 80 million Baby Boomers will be living longer and show no signs of reducing their inhaling of transportation.”

SPI has previously noted that consumption of plastic goods grew at a record-breaking pace in 2013 (the latest government statistics available) to $267.3 billion, up 6.5 percent from $251 billion in 2012. As the automotive sector relies more on plastic to replace metal parts, the expectation of increased use of 3D printing and its derivatives pave the way for more innovative applications of plastic.

 And while Millennials currently are not purchasing cars at a rate comparable to their parents and grandparents, the report projects that the so-called “Generation Y” will eventually buy more automobiles than the Baby Boomers.

 The only downside to the increased use and demand concerns the shortage of skilled talent. “New manufacturing jobs are significantly different from the rote assembly line work of earlier generations. Manufacturing is built upon advanced technologies that demand more advanced skills from workers,” Carteaux said. “Employees must be able to grasp engineering concepts, work with computers, make mathematical calculations and adapt to constant change. A manufacturing worker today must have the equivalent of two years of college, usually more, and the bar keeps rising.”

 Market Watch: Plastics in Automobiles is the first in a series of unique reports being written by SPI that will explore key factors – including demographics, economics, policy, labor, culture and technology – that impact the plastics industry’s primary end markets.  Beginning with Automotive & Transportation, the report series will continue with Healthcare, Packaging and Housing & Construction.  To access a copy of the report, click here.

Founded in 1937, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association promotes growth in the $373 billion U.S. plastics industry. Representing nearly 900 thousand American workers in the third largest U.S. manufacturing industry, SPI delivers legislative and regulatory advocacy, market research, industry promotion and the fostering of business relationships and zero waste strategies. SPI also owns and produces the international NPE trade show. All profits from NPE are reinvested into SPI’s industry services. Find SPI online at and

"From resin suppliers and equipment makers to processors and brand owners, SPI is proud to represent all facets of the U.S. plastics industry," said William R. Carteaux, president and CEO, SPI. Our most recent economic reports show that the plastics industry as a whole is resilient, and has come through the recession significantly better than other U.S. manufacturing sectors." 

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