CLEVELAND - World demand for thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) is forecast to rise six percent per year through 2013 to 4.2 million metric tons. Gains will be exaggerated to some extent by the fact that growth will be arising from a weak, recessionary 2008, particularly in many major developed countries. These and other trends are presented in World Thermoplastic Elastomers, a new study from The Freedonia Group Inc., a Cleveland-based industry research firm.
In 2008, China accounted for 32 percent of world TPE demand and an even higher 42 percent of global styrenic block copolymer (SBC) demand, indicative of the country’s dominance in the manufacturing of SBC-consuming products such as footwear. Although smaller than China in overall TPE and SBC demand, the United States was the world’s leading national market for thermoplastic polyolefins (TPOs) and thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPVs) in 2008, due to these products’ higher penetration rates in motor vehicles produced in the United States.
Excluding China, global TPE sales will remain heavily concentrated in the developed markets of the United States, Western Europe and Japan, particularly for higher-performance materials such as TPVs and copolyester elastomers (COPEs). Most developing markets focus on low-cost SBCs due to their existing positions in styrene-butadiene and polybutadiene rubber, but some regions, such as China, are also diversifying into thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs) and, to a lesser extent, TPOs. Growth prospects through 2013 will be strongest in developing nations such as the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Motor vehicles will remain the largest market for TPEs at the global level, with demand of 1.2 million metric tons in 2013. Through 2013, olefenics (TPOs and TPVs) will continue to see increasing penetration in motor vehicles in both interior and exterior applications. Specific areas of growth include soft-touch TPO trim, TPO airbag covers, TPV body seals, two-shot TPO or TPV overmolding of larger parts such as door panels, TPV weather seals and pre-colored TPO exterior panels that eliminate the need for paint. There is significant interest and collaboration among global automakers and TPE compounders in trying to produce an all-olefenic auto interior and large exterior car panels made with TPOs.