After the unprecedented winter storm in Texas and other states last month, automakers and suppliers could be slammed by yet another devastating parts shortage that could idle seating plants as early as next week.
The blizzard halted the region's critical petrochemical plants, which could lead to a shortage in automotive seating foam, industry sources say.
The storm that left millions without heat or power amid subfreezing temperatures has impacted production of oil refinery byproducts used to make propylene oxide needed for the polyurethane foam found in auto seats.
The potential shortage comes as the supply-constrained industry navigates an unexpected rebound in consumer demand and an alarming microchip shortage that has halted production lines for a number of automakers.
An auto-industry executive who spoke with Crain's Detroit Business on the condition of anonymity said some seating supplier assembly lines were expected to run out of foam by March 8.
"A lot of production is down still for oil refinery byproduct and in a few days no one is going to be able to make" propylene oxide, the executive said. "Everyone is scrambling. This problem is bigger and closer than the semiconductor issue."
Others expect the impact of the foam shortage to hit sometime mid-month.
A North America-based purchasing executive with an automaker told Automotive News on March 4 that while the potential shortage is not an immediate issue for vehicle assembly plants, it may surface in a few weeks.
"It's currently a threat, not a given," the executive said. "The first impact is the second half of March. … I assume everyone is looking for alternative supplies globally."
The UAW would need to be notified of production cuts a few days before they happen, the executive added.
A source close to the PU flexible foam industry said the problem is industry-wide, with raw materials shortages impacting production even before the bad weather hit.
"Producers are struggling to meet consumer demand, and the cold weather in Texas led to numerous plants being closed down," the source added, "with problems being experienced all the way down the polyurethane foam supply chain."