Metal costs, largely responsible for vehicle price hikes, will soon cease to pinch the automobile manufacturers' margins as they become increasingly aware of the benefits of using engineering plastic instead of metals in vehicles.
Home-grown automotive players like Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, Bajaj Auto, Hero Honda, TVS Motors and Maruti Suzuki are augmenting the use of plastics in engine components in an ambitious effort to reduce dependence on key metals like steel and aluminium, all of which have witnessed stupendous rise of 35-50 per cent in the past 5 months.
Plastic reduces the overall weight of the car by as much as 40 per cent, thereby automatically boosting the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. In addition, the cost of tooling plastic is half that of a conventional metal-based tooling system. Tooling is a process of providing a factory or an industry with the equipment needed for manufacturing.
Wolfgang Hapke, president, BASF, said: "India is one of the fastest growing automotive markets in the world but the use of plastics in automobiles is half of that of some of the international markets. There is a lot of scope of development in this space (in India). We have received very good response from Indian original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and have started supplies to all the leading auto players. We expect to double our supplies in the next few years."
BASF is the world's leading chemical company with revenues of about ¤58 billion. About 13 per cent of its revenue is generated from automotive engineering plastics. It supplies to companies like General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen, among others, most of which are already present in India. Such companies have started sourcing for engineering plastic from BASF for India cars.
The company will also be supplying on a full-scale length to one of India's most ambitious vehicle projects formulated by Tata Motors - the Nano. The Nano will sport components built of engineering plastic supplied by BASF. This will help in substantially reducing weight of the car, a key driver in boosting fuel efficiency. The company will also enter in talks with other companies that plan to come out with an ultra low-cost vehicle including Bajaj Auto and Renault.
Explaining benefits of utilising plastics in vehicles, a senior executive from TVS Motors, said: "Apart from bringing down the weight of the car significantly, we are able to give the appearance or styling to the component we need at a fraction of the cost of metals. These modern day plastics are very sturdy, flexible as well as durable. We are constantly increasing our focus on the product."
Besides, plastics do not corrode like metals hence their shelf life is considerably higher than their metal counterparts. The product also reduces emissions levels.
According to a report , the proportion of plastic in cars has doubled in the last 30 years and will amount to about 20 per cent by the end of the decade. Plastic is used to make thermoplastic motor oil pan for trucks, engine air intake manifold in addition to many other uses.
Due to the unprecedented rise in input costs during the past six months, vehicle manufacturers are contemplating hiking prices of cars, commercial vehicles and two wheelers.
The use of plastics will also help auto component manufacturers, which to a large extent are small to medium-sized companies, tide over the recent jolt in input prices.