Automotive: The automotive sector continues to be the largest market for composite materials, with annual growth of 4.1 percent in 2015 in terms of volume of shipments. OEMs are continuously looking for innovative materials to curb vehicle weight and achieve fuel efficiency and carbon emission targets.
Perhaps the biggest trend in the automotive industry is the development of technologies for making carbon fiber parts for mass volume vehicles. Automotive OEMs continue to form strategic alliances with carbon fiber suppliers, composite part manufacturers, machine suppliers, research institutes and universities to address various challenges, such as cycle time, raw material cost, tooling, repair and recycling.
U.S. production of light vehicles increased from 7.6 million in 2010 to 11.7 million vehicles in 2015, representing a 54 percent growth. Light vehicle sales also have grown by 50 percent since 2010, rising from 11.6 million to 17.4 million vehicles in 2015. Light vehicle production will continue growing next year but may plateau in 2017. A variety of factors influence the growth in automotive demand, including lower fuel prices, job gains, easy availability of credit and increasing consumer confidence.
Currently, prepreg lay-up and resin infusion process are the primary manufacturing methods for making CFRP parts for mass volume applications in the automotive industry. But both automotive OEMs and carbon fiber stakeholders are heavily betting on technologies such as high pressure RTM, prepreg lay-up and continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastics, as the figure below indicates.