Detroit — It should not be a shock to automotive suppliers that the plastics industry has an electric future.
By 2025, electric and hybrid electric vehicles could account for 33 percent of total vehicle production worldwide, according to data from IHS Markit Ltd., and suppliers are being tapped by OEMs to put different composites and materials into real-world vehicle applications.
Auto supplier executives like Eric Haiss of Continental Structural Plastics view the data as a sign that gears are shifting and the market is changing.
"If you're not paying attention to EVs … you should start doing so now," Haiss, CSP's executive vice president, said Jan. 16 at the Plastics in Automotive conference-sponsored by Plastics News.
Geographically, future electric vehicle production estimations also capture the change. In North America, Haiss said, IHS Markit estimates nearly 20 percent of vehicles will be electric or hybrid electric by 2025. In Europe, estimates are at 11 percent.
Estimates for China represent the biggest growth curve due to the Chinese government's aggressive electric vehicle rules, he said.
"When you look at 2017, you're dealing with about 500,000 EV or HEV vehicles that were produced in China," Haiss said. "What's really interesting is that by 2020, that number will be 2 million vehicles. That is the Chinese government's goal."
By 2025, IHS Markit projects there will be more than 4.5 million electric and hybrid electric vehicles in China.
"Everyone here recognizes battery boxes are very important," Haiss said of composites used in electric vehicle applications.
In 2014, CSP formed a joint venture with Qingdao Victall Railway Co. Ltd. to manufacture composite components for automotive, heavy truck and bus, and construction and agriculture markets in China. The 50-50 partnership has also given the supplier a boost in the electric vehicle market.
"I think close to 80 percent of our opportunities in China are tied to electric vehicle battery boxes at the moment," Haiss said. "It's a really growing market for us."
Using composites for the battery boxes — Haiss said CSP uses vinyl ester, a thermoset plastic — offers several advantages over metal, such as lower tooling costs and overall program investment as well as design flexibility, and lightweighting and safety improvements.
"Many people are starting to estimate that with electric vehicles — and eventually autonomous electric vehicles — the projected lifecycle of a vehicle could be as high as 500,000 miles. … Corrosion [resistance] is going to be a real big advantage for us with composites," he said.