Plastics in Automotive Applications

The use of plastics in the automotive industry is on the rise. According to the American Chemistry Council, more than 5.7 billion pounds of plastics are used in automobile production annually. Why? Because high performance plastics have environmental and economic advantages. In fact, almost 50% of the volume of a new light vehicle is made of plastic, but are responsible for less than 10% of a new light vehicle’s weight.

Benefits of Plastics in Automotive

Lighter cars, like those with plastic components, are lighter and more fuel efficient, producing less greenhouse gases. When a vehicle’s weight decreases by 10%, its fuel economy increases by 6-8%. Other benefits include recyclability, flexibility, and minimal corrosion.

Major Types of Plastics in Automotive

There are three major types of plastic materials used in the automotive industry: Polypropylene, Polyurethane and Poly-Vinyl-Chloride. These three compose almost 70% of high performance plastics used in automobiles.

  • Polypropylene (PP) makes up about 32% of plastics used in cars. PP is a thermoplastic polymer made from the monomer propylene. It is usually chemical resistant, and its various applications include bumpers, gas cans and carpet fibers.
  • Polyurethane (PUR) makes up about 17% of plastics used in automobiles. PUR is a tough elastomeric material with a wide range of hardness. It is resistant to heat, abrasion, water, oil, gasoline, radiation, ozone and most solvents. It’s typically used in foam seating, foam insulation panels, wheels, tires, hard plastic components and automotive suspension bushings.
  • Poly-Vinyl-Chloride (PVC) makes up about 16% of high performance plastic used in cars. Its rigidity depends on the amount and/or type of plasticizer used. PVC is flexible and flame retardant, and it has great thermal stability, high gloss and low lead content. It can be molded in several different ways, such as injection, compression and blow molding. Its various applications include pipes, doors, electrical cable sheathing and automobile instrument panels.

Other plastics used in the automotive industry include:

  • ABS
  • Polyamide
  • Polystyrene
  • Polyethylene
  • POM
  • Polycarbonate
  • Acrylic
  • PBT
  • Polyethylene Terephthalate
  • ASA

With technological advancements, the amount of plastics used in the car industry will increase. Not only do new additional luxury features often require plastic parts, but plastics are replacing steel due to their unique benefits.