Trinseo | Driving Demand for Automotive Plastics
Skip to Sub Navigation Menu Skip to Main Content

Thought Leadership

October 25, 2021

Driving Demand for Automotive Plastics

By Mike Hale, Global Plastics Technology Director

The automotive industry is undergoing its biggest revolution in 100 years as electric and autonomous vehicles rise in popularity. As the industry continues to adapt to consumer demand, these vehicles are no longer in the realms of science fiction and will be the next standard in transportation. Plastics will be a key component to driving the automotive industry forward in new standards.

However, Trinseo is also focusing on the circularity of car parts in order to sustainably meet demands. We’re accomplishing this not only with the materials we’re currently developing to enable automotive manufacturers to meet their goals, but by exploring how cars can be made for easier disassembly and the parts reused at the end of the vehicle’s life.

Today’s Automotive Plastics

As cars have changed, plastics have come to play a crucial role. The share of plastics in a vehicle has grown for many reasons, including its lightweight potential compared to traditional materials, flexibility in design, increased safety standards, and aesthetic options. When designed properly, reinforced plastics can provide equivalent strength and stability to metal at a reduced weight, which aids in fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions.

With more hybrid and electric vehicles coming into the market, plastics will continue to play a vital role in automotive assembly and innovation because of their durability, strength, and light weight.

Trends in Plastic Materials

Plastics have met many automotive needs in recent years, and we anticipate this will continue with future developments. For example, transparent materials like PMMA assist us in the function of a vehicle and will be key to future autonomous and driver-assisted features. PMMA is a scratch resistant, UV-transparent plastic that is frequently used in rear lighting to cover backup cameras, blind spot sensors, and other sensitive areas that could give false readings if damaged. The ability for PMMA to be backlit will make it useful in future fenders and roof rail designs.

Another durable material that will impact innovation is polycarbonate, which when combined with acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), remains ductile at low temperatures making it perfect for use in safety critical parts for crash performance. Materials are designed to ensure the maximum performance is gained at the lowest possible weight.

In addition to more durable plastics, Trinseo is also looking at how to reduce the squeak of plastic parts rubbing against each other while continuing to perform at the same level. Electric vehicles produce less noise outside the car, and drivers and passengers expect a similar level of silence inside. Trinseo has been working on a range of materials that address the noise and vibrations in order to reduce squeaks and other sounds.

A Sustainable Future for Automotive Plastics

Today, not only do we think about how a vehicle is constructed but we are also starting to think about how it could be disassembled at the end of its life 15 to 20 years from now. With more plastics being used in the automotive industry, we need to look at how we can best integrate materials from end-of-life vehicles to make the industry more sustainable. Through the newest plastic recycling technology, these materials could be processed and reused, meeting the same quality standards of virgin materials.

At Trinseo, post-use materials are selected according to stringent guidelines that ensure the plastics will provide the same level of performance and safety. By investing in the reuse of these materials, we can create a circular pathway to keep them from polluting our environment without compromising quality.

Plastics will continue to be part of the future of the automotive industry. With electric vehicles rising in popularity and demand, plastics will evolve as the automotive industry evolves. By working together, we can drive sustainable solutions to meet consumer needs.

We’re excited about what the future holds as leaders in sustainable solutions for automotive plastics.