The growth in automotive sales, and demand from consumers for new technologies in vehicles, will drive continued growth in other industries as well. In particular, business is looking up for electronics and hardware industries, and some parts of the chemicals industry.


For instance, while cars that park or even drive themselves still sometimes seem like something from a science fiction novel or movie, numerous companies are developing such technology, and consumers ask for it. The result is that it’s no longer a question of if, but when, autonomous vehicles (AVs) will be available. Indeed, vehicles with varying levels of self-driving capability—ranging from single-lane highway driving to self-parking—will start to become available to consumers as soon as mid-2015 or early 2016, a recent report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) explains.


AVs are enabled by multiple hardware and software components, including various sensor technologies used to assess and react to a vehicle’s environment. The functionality of AVs makes use of innovative technologies to process input from sensors as well as software to interpret the inputs and translate them into a needed course of action.


Although some of these technologies are already commercially available, certain critical pieces of hardware—most notably, sensors—need further development before they can be used commercially, the BCG report explains. Automotive suppliers and technology companies have already developed a mix of sensors that rely on radar, cameras, ultrasound and light detection and ranging (lidar) technology, as well as other computing and positioning systems. Nevertheless, some of the most vital enabling components—specifically lidar sensors and GPS—must be further developed, and their costs scaled down, before OEMs will adopt them, the BCG authors write.


Another key component of AVs will be short-range communications technology. This technology, such as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, is collectively referred to as V2X, which can be effectively applied to complex driving environments to enhance the safety of AVs. V2X technology can supplement on-board sensors to gather and transmit environmental data, enabling the car, for example, to “see” around corners and negotiate road intersections, BCG authors write. V2X technologies are being developed in parallel with AV technologies, and are expected to enhance AV performance and safety, according to the report.


Then again, as automotive sales in general pick up, there is a corresponding increased demand for the chemicals industry, and plastics in particular. Plastics make up about 15 percent of the materials used in a mid-size car, so KPMG estimates that growing auto sales could correspond to an expected growth rate of eight percent annually through 2018 for plastics, a recent Chem.Info article reports.


This is especially good news for companies developing advanced plastics used in light-weight vehicles, KPMG notes. Modern polyesters, for example, reduce the amount of foam needed in seats. New light-weight polycarbonates are increasingly being used for sunroofs and windows. Finally, just as is the case for airplanes, new polymer composites deliver strength but also help reduce the structural weight of vehicle components.


“The material is 50 percent lighter than conventional steel and 30 percent lighter than aluminum,” says Mike Shannon, Global Chair, Chemicals & Performance Technologies at KPMG, in the Chem.Info article.


What are your thoughts on the automotive supply chain? Do you also forecast significant growth for everything from electronics hardware to plastics used in vehicles today?