French supplier Inergy Automotive Systems started the year producing auto fuel tanks in 17 countries on five continents.
By year-end, Inergy will add China, Turkey and an undisclosed country to the list.
Inergy’s global growth is astounding considering that it makes a product that did not even exist until the 1980s, said Inergy CEO Pierre Lecocq.
Since their introduction in Europe, multilayer plastic tanks have taken over 95 percent of the auto market here.
“When we look at five years down the road, Asia will become our biggest market,” said Lecocq during a US presentation last month at a conference in Dearborn, Michigan, organized by automotive consultants, ITB Group.
Inergy expects demand for its products to grow in Russia, eastern Europe, India and Iran.
The Paris-based company is moving into China this year after acquiring 55 percent of China’s Yangzhou Yapp Auto Plastics Parts, a leading supplier of fuel systems.
Unlike Japan, where there has been little demand for plastic fuel tanks, China has embraced the product because of the strength of European automakers there, Lecocq says.
Japan starts to shift
Automakers with joint ventures in China such as Volkswagen wanted suppliers capable of providing the same components available in Europe. So as future Inergy partner Yapp began making tanks, it launched the same style of multilayer blow-molded tanks. Last year, tank makers based in China turned out 1.8 million plastic tanks.
Even Japan with a tradition of steel tanks is reconsidering plastic. Inergy has two manufacturing plants open there now and is seeking new sales.
“They are shifting to plastic,” Lecocq says.
Inergy is fine-tuning plans to expand into Turkey this year, along with plans for a third site it has not yet disclosed.
For Europe, where diesel-fuel cars make up about half of the auto sales, Inergy is introducing new tanks that integrate filters for diesel fuel into the system.