Bruce Benda is the vice president of automotive and transportation for Bayer MaterialScience LLC. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Benda grew up in the Detroit automotive industry where his father worked for General Motors for more than 30 years. He has worked with Bayer since 1985 and has spent a large portion of that time working in the global automotive industry. He recently returned from the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) Management Briefings where much discussion surrounded President Obama’s announcement of his intention to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to 54.5 mpg by the year 2025.
What is your focus and how does that apply to the composites industry?
We supply chemical building blocks to tier one and tier two suppliers for the automotive industry. We find ourselves between crude oil and automotive. We’ll take materials and turn them into plastics, coatings, adhesive and polyurethane resins which are used in the manufacture of head lamp assemblies, instrument panels, handles and the headliner above head in vehicle, etc. Our global headquarters is in Germany, and we have a strong presence in the European automotive market as well as Asia Pacific and NAFTA.
What do you see driving automotive the industry right now?
Simply put, automotive lightweighting leads to improved fuel economy. I’ve looked at the statistics in automotive for the last couple of years to better understand what’s happening to materials. There is an evolution over the last ten years concerning the weight of the materials. The average weight of car at the end of the 90s was around 4,000 pounds, maybe slightly less. And that stayed relatively constant until 2009. Plastics and composites have grown an average of 3.8 percent over that same period of time.
How does this impact the composites industry?
Composites have been playing an increasingly important role over the last several years. Within our company composites have become more relevant; polycarbonates grew at 5.6 percent per year over the 10 year period ending in 2009; slightly less than 20 pounds per vehicle. Over that same period polyurethane usage grew 1.4 percent per year, comprising approximately 60 pounds per vehicle. Looking forward, the U.S. government is reaching for 54.5 mpg. The challenging situation is that the automotive industry has to increase fuel economy and thus look into a variety of solutions, for example turbo charging an engine to minimize the size and weight without sacrificing performance and efficiencies in the power train. Overall, we need to take weight out of the vehicle. Ford talked about taking 200-700 pounds out of its vehicle over the next 5-8 years. Without being specific, they talked about how lightweighting is a significant factor for the automotive industry in order to reduce fuel consumption and the carbon footprint. The challenge is to make vehicles lightweight while maintaining competitive cost, materials functionality and modular constructions without compromising safety while also allowing design flexibility to meet consumer comfort expectation.