PARIS -- Greater use of glass in car design will help drive double-digit growth for the glass industry in the next five years, suppliers say.
"With an increased use of glass and more innovation, we expect an additional 10 percent growth between today and 2009," says Christian Guindon, the European COO of Japan's Asahi Glass Co.
Asahi Glass highlights this greater use of glass by comparing a 1985 Peugeot 305 SW, with a total glass area of 2.24 square meters, and a 2004 Peugeot 307 SW station wagon, which has 5.6 square meters of glass, including the large glass roof.
The next advance in glass technology to arrive at dealerships will be water-repellant glass for side windows. An Asahi Glass source says: "We can't name the carmaker, but it will come to market soon."
Future innovations could include silver-coated heated windshields and electro-chromatic self-tinting glass to reduce glare -- although these will require more powerful electrical systems in cars.
Glass producers had combined automotive revenues in Europe exceeding E3 billion in 2003. Around 90 percent of these were sales to automakers. The rest came from aftermarket replacement windshields.
Steady growth seen
European market leader is French firm Saint-Gobain, with 40 percent, which equals about E1.3 billion. UK-based Pilkington is No. 2 with about E1 billion or 31 percent, followed by Asahi Glass with about E806 million or 25 percent.
Asahi's Guindon predicts a "steady growth of 1.3 percent in western Europe and 9 percent in central and eastern Europe" in addition to supplies for new-car manufacturing.
The only negative news for the automotive glass industry is the pressure from automakers on suppliers to lower their prices.
"GM wants 5 percent lower prices every year, and others have targeted a decrease of 21 percent in three years," says Guindon.
The glass industry may be forced to move toward less sophisticated products, such as uncoated windshields if automakers continue to demand lower prices, warns Guindon.
Pilkington expects continuing improvement in the automotive glass business, but also is worried about price pressure.
Says Pilkington Chairman Sir Nigel Rudd in his annual report: "We have offset these [price pressures] by organizational and operational performance improvements."