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Feeling optimistic about the automotive market

By: Don Loepp

January 15, 2014

If you're like me, you've been reading for a while about the resurgence of the North American automotive market.

New U.S. light-vehicle sales are widely expected to surpass 16 million in 2014 for the first time since 2007. Suppliers have been gearing up for extra work. Toolmakers are especially busy, because OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers have been racing to introduce new models. Experts think toolmakers will be operating close to capacity for several years.

All interesting stuff, to be sure. But in the past week, I've had a chance to see the industry up close and personal. And I can report that it's quite an interesting and exciting market.

Last week, I had a chance to visit two of the Plastics News Processor of the Year finalists: Protoplast Inc. and Tech Molded Plastics Inc. Both companies are what we'd consider mid-sized automotive molders and toolmakers (Protoplast had 2013 sales of $11.7 million; Tech Molded had 2012 sales of $19.6 million).

These were impressive operations. Both companies came through the Great Recession with low levels of debt, and they've invested in worker training and cutting-edge technology. Now they're each in a strong position to benefit from the best new plastics automotive applications.

(For the record, the third Processor of the Year finalist is AMA Plastics Inc. That company is big in electronics, medical and consumer products, not automotive).

This week, I had a chance to visit the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. And like my visits to Protoplast and Tech Molded Plastics, the visit was an eye-opener.

You can't come away from the 2014 show without being impressed with the industry's glitz and energy. And there are plenty of plastics-specific stories to highlight — Rhoda Miel has covered a few already this week, and we've got more to come.

Getting through the recession wasn't easy, and there were a lot of plastics industry casualties. Now this new growth phase is presenting a new batch of challenges. I look forward to sharing with readers how Protoplast and Tech Molded Plastics are dealing with those issues in some upcoming video reports.

But there's one thing for sure: The dark days of the North American auto industry are over — at least for now. And that's great news for a pretty huge chunk of the plastics industry.