Automobiles require a wide variety of raw materials for their production, including the iron used for steel, aluminum, and glass as well as the petroleum products used to make plastics, rubber, and special fibers. After being mined or extracted from the earth, the materials are transformed into products that automakers or auto parts companies use in the assembly process. Due to large ongoing demand, the automobile industry is one of the biggest 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 big basic building blocks—engines and transmissions—there are the interior parts, such as instrument panels, seats, and HVAC systems, along with all the necessary wiring to tie it all together. Over the years, the materials used to build these various component parts have changed somewhat, but the bulk of what goes into automotive manufacturing has remained 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 among the four most 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 auto manufacturers can use in the production of automobiles. Those materials are then sold either directly to auto manufacturers or to auto parts suppliers.

Steel

Produced from mined iron ore (its base raw material), steel is perhaps the most widely used component in auto manufacturing. It accounts for roughly 80% of the weight of an average 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 as well. Technological advances over the years have enabled auto manufacturers to utilize different types of steel that have varying levels of rigidity.

Plastics

Oil and gas (i.e., petroleum) are 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. Altogether, plastic comprises roughly 50% of what goes into the manufacture of a new car. 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, primarily because of its malleability and lightweight nature, is being increasingly used in car manufacturing. Aluminum has progressed from accounting for just 2% of the weight of an average car in 1970 to nearly 15%. Wheels are commonly made of aluminum, and it 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. In addition to tires, 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. In all, the demand for rubber that comes from the auto industry accounts for approximately 80% of the world's total rubber production.

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.