MEXICO CITY - Mexican processors of glass-fiber-reinforced plastics have seen market demand slashed by 30 percent since the start of this crisis-dominated year. That has meant that many firms in this specialized industry, top-heavy with small, family-run companies, already have been driven out of business, said Norberto L¢pez Ch vez, president of the Mexican reinforced plastics industry association Aniplar.
But despair is beginning to give way to hope for the 6-year-old organization. The group, with 180 member firms, is confronting the industry's many problems with a bold, five-year development plan.
The program outlines the industry's position, identifies its chief problems and sets ambitious goals to raise national per-capita consumption and pro-duction over five and 10 years.
The plan calls for Mexican consumption of reinforced plastics, which now stands at just over half a pound per person, to rise to 2 pounds a person by 2000. Its five-year goal calls for output to increase to 205 million pounds from last year's 50.7 million pounds.
Matching Mexican performance against that of Brazil, with its current production of 165.3 million pounds of reinforced plastics, the Aniplar plan sets a 10-year Mexican industry goal of 348.3 million pounds and per-capita consumption of 3 pounds. At the same consumption, it estimates Brazilian output will total nearly 624 million pounds.
The plan points to some industry weaknesses. Among them are its rudimentary and antiquated technology; basic, low-value-added products; a predomina-tion of small, low-volume, poorly managed and financed firms; and lack of export experience.
The draft plan is expected to be ratified at Aniplar '95, the 6th International Reinforced Plastics Conference and Trade Show, being held at Hotel Del Prado in Mexico City on Aug. 23-25.
Last year, according to Aniplar's Lopez, was an important year for reinforced plastics molders serving the construction market - one of the top two markets for such materials. Fiberglass sheet mainly used for roofing sold well in Mexico and to Canada and the United States.
In the first half of 1994, the other big market - automotive - also was strong, but last December's peso devaluation and its devastating economic aftermath have wiped out the chance of any growth during 1995.
The industry, like other Mexican custom plastics molders, has had to face not only a depressed market but soaring resin prices, the high cost of borrowing, and a desperate need to upgrade technology to compete.
Lopez, market and product development manager of Vitro Fibras SA, part of the giant Mexican glass, chemicals and plastics firm Vitro Group of Monterrey, pointed out that imported basic chemicals like styrene monomer have risen as much as 80 per-cent since 1994.
In the first three months business was buoyed by orders left over from last year. But now, the recession has now caught up with molders, and April through July have been bad months, L¢pez said.
Automotive and construction uses together consume about 80 percent of Mexico's reinforced plastics, while corrosion-free tanks and other such applications represent a growing market and about 15 percent of annual consumption. Domestic articles account for the balance.
Several promising market opportunities are appearing, said Lopez, including automotive. The government has approved a total overhaul of Mexico City's huge bus services. This is expected to lead to the purchase of a new bus fleet.
Another huge market is linked to the country's big housing need - as many as 6 million homes. L¢pez estimates that half that number will need septic tanks. Fiberglass is a strong contender for this business.
Meanwhile, Mexico's state oil monopoly, Petroleos Mexicanos, which runs the nation's 3,000 gasoline filling stations, plans to double the number by the year 2000, said L¢pez. He claims that Pemex already has specified glass fiber for the three tanks required by each new station.
Aniplar is under no illusions that its plan sets a tough target to reach, but in the course of shaping a stronger, more efficient and more competitive industry, it hopes to enlist the aid of government, the banks, big Mexican firms and potential foreign joint venture partners.
Lopez said he mailed 600 letters to companies and organizations in the United States and Canada in early June in a bid to establish ventures with his member firms. It is too early yet to judge the response, he said. Ani-plar's office is at the Vitro Fibras headquarters in Mexico City.