Automobiles require a number of raw materials for their production. This includes aluminum, glass and the iron ore to make steel, as well as petroleum products used to make plastics, rubber and special fibers. After raw materials are extracted from the earth, they are transformed into products that automakers or auto parts companies use in the assembly process. The automobile industry is one of the largest consumers of the world's raw materials.

A Lot of Automobile Parts

A large number of component parts go into assembling an automobile. Beyond the basic building blocks (engines and transmissions) there are the interior parts such as instrument panels, seats and HVAC systems, along with the necessary wiring to tie everything together. Over the years, the materials used to make these parts have changed somewhat, but the bulk of what goes into a car remains largely the same.

Key Takeaways

  • The automobile industry consumes raw materials from around the world in the production of cars and auto parts.
  • Steel, rubber, plastics and aluminum are four commonly utilized commodities found in cars.
  • Also, the auto industry relies on oil and petroleum products, not just for gasoline, but for the synthesis of plastics and other synthetic materials.

First, raw materials are mined or otherwise extracted from the earth. Next, a raw material production company turns the raw materials into materials automakers can use in production. Those materials are then sold directly to automakers or to auto parts suppliers.

Steel

Steel is produced from iron ore and is perhaps the most widely used input in auto manufacturing. On average, 900 kilograms of steel is used in every car. Steel is used to construct a car's chassis and body, including the roof, body, door panels and the beams between doors. Steel is often used in mufflers and exhaust pipes. Technological advances over the years have enabled automakers to utilize different types of steel with varying levels of rigidity.

Plastics

Petroleum is the raw material source of the many plastic components in cars. Chemical companies transform petroleum byproducts into plastic. Plastics are the challenger to steel for prominence in auto manufacturing. The typical new car is made with 151 kilograms of plastics and composite materials, accounting for about 8% of the vehicle's weight and 50% of the volume materials. Among the countless car parts made from plastic are door handles, air vents, the dashboard and airbags. The versatility, durability and lightweight character of plastics make them an ideal material for various parts.

Aluminum

Aluminum is increasingly being used in car manufacturing, primarily because of its malleability and lightweight nature. In 1975, just 84 pounds of aluminum were used in the typical car, and that figure was forecast to reach 466 pounds in 2020 and 565 pounds in 2028. Wheels are commonly made of aluminum. The metal has replaced steel and iron in the construction of many critical auto parts, such as engine blocks.

Rubber

Rubber is essential for cars, and the auto industry is essential to the rubber industry. Tires are one of the most important parts of a car. Rubber is also used for making numerous belts, hoses and seals critical to the functioning of a car's engine. Like plastic, rubber is durable and easily molded into different shapes. Demand for natural rubber is forecast to reach $33.87 billion by 2027, up from $28.65 billion in 2019, with the automotive sector accounting for 65.3%.

The Bottom Line

From metals to fibers to the sand and quartz used to make glass, automobile manufacturing uses possibly more raw materials than virtually any other production industry. Since it first developed the assembly line process, the auto industry has always been a leader in innovations in mass production, and its adaptive use of raw materials is an important factor in its success.