Detroit, US – A shortage of polyurethane foam and other polymer products could halt some North American car production in mid-March, according to automotive industry sources.
A car-industry executive who spoke with Crain's Detroit Business on the condition of anonymity said some seating supplier assembly lines were expected to run out of foam by 8 March.
The across-the-board shortages are caused by the blizzard on 15 February, which closed petrochemical production in Texas and other states which border the Gulf of Mexico.
The potential raw material shortage comes on top of an unexpected rebound in consumer demand in North America and a shortage of microchips that has halted production lines.
'A lot of production is down still for oil refinery by-product and in a few days, no one is going to be able to make propylene oxide,' the executive said. 'Everyone is scrambling. This problem is bigger and closer than the semiconductor issue.'
Others expect the impact of the foam shortage to hit sometime mid-month.
A North America-based purchasing executive with an automaker told Automotive News on 4 March that, while the potential shortage is not an immediate issue for vehicle assembly plants, it may surface in a few weeks.
'It's currently a threat, not a given,' the executive said. 'The first impact is the second half of March… I assume everyone is looking for alternative supplies globally.'
A source close to the PU industry said the problem is industry-wide, with raw materials shortages impacting production even before the bad weather hit.
'Producers are struggling to meet consumer demand, and the cold weather in Texas led to numerous plants being closed down,' the source added, 'with problems being experienced all the way down the polyurethane foam supply chain.'
Raw materials supply problems for diisocyanates and polyols have been tight for several months and started to hit producers in October 2020.
Several carmakers said that they do not yet anticipate plant stoppages, but many said they are monitoring the situation.
'GM continues to work closely with the supply base to mitigate the impacts caused by the significant winter weather that affected a large portion of the country the week of 15 February,' said spokesman David Barnas. 'We don't anticipate any immediate production impacts.'
Toyota Motor North America also said it is coordinating with suppliers.
'We are aware of the petrochemical industry's condition and are working with our supplier partners to mitigate any impact to our production plan,' said Toyota spokesman Eric Booth. 'At this time, it is too early to predict the potential near-term impact.'
A spokesman for Hyundai, which has a recently expanded factory in Alabama to build the redesigned Tucson compact crossover, said: 'We are in contact with our seat supplier, but don't have any information yet on whether we will have an issue.'
Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia is similarly monitoring the situation, a spokesman said.
'We are aware of the chemical shortage concerns affecting seat foam supply across the industry and are monitoring our supply chain closely,' spokesman Rick Douglas said.
As of 1 March, US BMW production had not been hit by the shortage, said company spokesman Phil Diianni.
Ford Motor Co. declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for Stellantis, the newly named entity from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and France's PSA, said in an emailed statement: 'We are closely monitoring the situation. At this time, we do not expect an impact on our operations.'
Some seating suppliers also say they have not yet felt the pinch from the shortage.
French seating and electronics supplier Faurecia said it had not experienced any impact as of March 3.
Suburban Detroit seating supplier Lear Corp. declined to comment on the situation. Canadian supply giant Magna International and seating supplier Adient did not respond to inquiries on the topic. Several automakers said that they do not yet anticipate plant stoppages, but many said they are monitoring the situation.