“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.”