The need for light-weight materials among OEMs and component producers is accelerating the demand for automotive plastics in Europe, according to researchers at Frost & Sullivan (F&S).

F&S says the use of plastics can reduce the number of parts required for a specific application, cut down on processing costs, and facilitate fuel savings 5-7% for every 10% drop in vehicle weight.

It also says that in addition to environmental sustainability, plastics can enable enhanced design flexibility and passenger safety features such as shock absorption in bumpers, reduced explosion risks in under-the-hood (UTH) applications and life-saving accessories such as air bags and seat belts.

"Regulations demanding the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from passenger and light commercial vehicles by 2020 are compelling automotive component manufacturers and OEMs to substitute metal parts," said Frost & Sullivan Chemicals, Materials & Food Research Analyst Soundarya Shankar. "The improved heat, chemical and impact resistance, enhanced aesthetics, optimum price-performance index in high performance polymers such as polypropylene (PP), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polycarbonates and polyurethanes (PU) coupled with new compounding techniques have made plastics the most preferred material in automotive applications."

Plastics also offer significant cost advantages over metals, F&S says. While metals are cheaper than plastic materials on a cost-per-unit basis, the latter remain a more feasible alternative due to lower processing, assembling and finishing costs. The cost of plastics will fall further when standardisation and mass production commence, the research firm adds.