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The European automotive industry will use more and more composites

News International-French

9 Mar 2011

According to a recent study by Mavel, the demand for composites in the European automotive industry is expected to grow by nearly 6% annually up to 2010. Many developments are under way. The following paper presents the methodology of the study and then discusses the changes in the European automotive market and some new composite developments for that market.


(Published on July-August 2007 - JEC Magazine #34)


The methodology used for a recent Mavel study was a combination of 1) a thorough knowledge of the state of the art in vehicle design, based on an in-depth analysis of the vehicles launched on the European market (the vehicles are taken apart at Mavel’s technical centre for analysis); 2) the identification and analysis of key change factors to enable a move towards new designs and the use of new materials; 3) automotive statistics and forecasts compiled in-house; 4) contact networking with the key players in the industry; and 5) the expertise of senior consultants.


The European automotive market

Quantitative evolution

The market (i.e. sales in various countries) is very often confused with production.


For Western and Eastern Europe combined, a total sales increase of 400,000-600,000 units is expected by 2010. The curve cumulates 3% over 5 years, or 0.5% per year, and is quasi-flat. However, the changing balance between exports and imports will support European production.


As regards exports to Russia, the market has grown considerably in recent years (1.4 million units in 2005) and demand is turning increasingly towards non-Russian models (600,000 in 2005, including 300,000 imported from Europe).


The Russian market is sure to grow further over the coming years (new purchase market), and the proportion of imports is also bound to increase (750,000 imports expected in 2006 and 1,200,000 in 2010). Among these, imports from Eastern Europe will grow, partially replacing those from Korea, following the launch of Korean transplants in Eastern Europe. Overall, sales of passenger cars from Europe to Russia are likely to increase by 700,000-800,000 units by 2010.


European exports are currently in a slump but should develop over the coming years, as the new models produced in Eastern Europe correspond well to demand in emerging countries. Furthermore, the United States will soon increase its demand for European cars (growing demand for higher-end vehicles), as will China and India. Therefore, car sales from Europe to other regions will probably increase by 600,000-900,000 units by 2010.


Given the new Japanese and Korean OEM plants in Eastern Europe, with a capacity of 800,000-1,000,000 units per year, it is clear that imports from Japan and Korea will drop considerably. The decrease will account for approximately 800,000 units per year in 2010.Thus, for light vehicles (passenger cars and light utility vehicles), Mavel’s Automotive Observatory expects a 2.5% annual production growth up to 2010.



Qualitative evolution

There is a strong trend towards style differentiation in European production. Key change factors include the new safety and emission regulations from the EU and growing demand for comfort from customers, without compromising the high performance and low cost of vehicles. There is also a clear trend towards increasing size and technology content in European vehicles. Consequently, the average weight of European vehicles will keep increasing in the coming years.



As a consequence, Mavel’s Automotive Observatory expects that, by 2010, the weight of light vehicles (passenger cars and light utility vehicles) will be increasing by 2.5% per year.


New composite developments for the European automotive market

Interior parts



The key change factors for gearbox levers and pedals include weight reduction in the front of the car and the costeffectiveness of PP GF compared to steel, aluminium, magnesium and PA GF. Aluminium, magnesium, PA GF and PP SGF are all competing vigorously to replace steel in this application. According to the available information, the costeffectiveness of PP SGF will cause its market share to increase gradually against PA GF, while its potential for function integration will cause its market share to increase gradually against steel.


Mavel specialises in high-value-added information and analyses for the automotive industry design chain (carmakers, system suppliers and material producers) and is a leader in benchmarking analyses through its Autobench and Bodybench programs. These involve taking cars entirely apart (including all systems and the body-in-white) and creating databases, for the purpose of design analysis for innovation and recycling. Mavel has dismantled 58 vehicles to date.


Mavel supplies qualitative and quantitative information through its automotive observatory department (data and forecasts for vehicles and engines, data analyses and trends) and provides prospective and strategic studies through its studies department (multi-customer materials studies, single-client customized studies). Its latest study is entitled “Plastics in the European Automotive Industry: State of the Art and Forecast 2006-2012”.


As regards door panels, the main change factors include environmental positioning versus natural fibres and function integration. PP and ABS are the main competitors in this application. As far as we know, the market share of PP will grow slowly against ABS due to its cost-effectiveness and the willingness of German carmakers to use more natural fibres (as in the VW Passat, the BMW 3 Series or in Mercedes cars). Some new developments are expected in the near future; for instance, wood and natural fibres will be used increasingly in these applications.


Under-the-hood components

Carmakers are striving to reduce the weight in the front of the car and save money by integrating functions in the front-end carrier. System suppliers are proposing an SMC process, a hybrid (PA + steel) design, or PP LGF, depending on the carmaker’s requirements.


Two kinds of substitution are possible: replacing metals (steel or aluminium) with plastics, or replacing other plastics (UP and PA) with PP LGF.


On new models, the front-end carrier is often made of plastics. Carmakers are not only designing cars more and more with front end carriers, they are also tending to use plastics to replace metals. As for the competition among PP LGF, PA + steel, and SMC, there is no clear trend for the future. The choice of material depends on the temperature-resistance requirements, which can vary according to the carmaker and, sometimes, to the platform design.



Carmakers want to reduce fuel consumption and noise through streamlining. System suppliers will push PP instead PUR or UP in order to cut costs. More and more new models will be equipped with engine streamlining, as it has always contributed to decrease fuel consumption by improving the drag coefficient, and will continue to do so.


Weight savings in the front of vehicles also motivate the use of plastics instead of metals in battery trays. PP will go on replacing metals in this application.


Exterior parts

System suppliers will use PP (P/E or PP LGF) or metal parts (steel or aluminium) for rear bumper beams according to the requirements of carmakers. Traditional steel parts can be replaced by either aluminium or plastic ones. Some developments are expected in the near future for rear bumper beams on new models.




Carmakers are using plastics for the spare wheel well and the rear floor to save weight and gain greater design flexibility. There is vigorous competition between SMC (UP GF) and GMT (PP LGF). Plastics can substitute for steel when the shape of the part makes the stamping process difficult. Some developments are expected in the near future for spare wheel wells on new models.



Carmakers also tend to use plastics in the design of enginecompartment panels to save weight and get more flexibility. System suppliers will use PP or PA as a function of carmakers’ requirements. Here again, plastics can replace steel when part shape makes the stamping process difficult. Moreover, functional integration will favour plastics. In the near future, some developments are expected for engine-compartment panels on new models.


Carmakers specify plastics for hatchbacks and trunk lids when special shapes are designed, mainly for niche vehicles (station wagons, coupes or convertibles). System suppliers prefer processing UP GF in SMC for niche vehicles and PP LGF for higher-volume vehicles. Plastics generally replace steel in this application, although sometimes steel makes a comeback, such as in the Mercedes A-Class.



In order to reduce weight, composites are being used more and more instead of traditional metal parts, especially in the front of the vehicle. The development of long-fibre thermoplastics has accentuated this trend. The main developments include gearbox levers and pedals, door panels, front-end carriers, engine streamlining, battery trays, rear bumper beams, spare wheel wells, engine compartment panels, and rear openings. We calculated European consumption of composites in automotive applications, and estimate that demand for reinforced plastics in the European automotive industry could reach 740,000 MT by 2010, or a 50% growth from 2003 to 2010.