Composite Leaf Springs Poised to Grow at the Fastest Rate in the Leaf Springs Market in the Global Automotive Industry

Stratview Research | 2016-08-26

Introduction

A leaf spring is an arc shaped structure that is used for suspension in wheeled vehicles. Leaf springs are attached directly to the frame at both ends or at one end. Mostly the front end is attached to the leaf spring and the other end is attached to a shackle. Shackle is a swinging short arm which helps a leaf spring to elongate when compressed and thus makes for softer springiness.

Leaf springs are mostly used in light and medium & heavy duty commercial vehicles, such as vans, pick-up trucks, and trucks. Some passenger cars also rely on the leaf springs technology for better suspension. In heavy vehicles, leaf springs are the most common and offer the advantage of spreading the load more on the vehicle’s chassis.

There are two types of leaf springs, namely mono leaf springs and multi leaf springs. Multi leaf springs are further bifurcated into two types; conventional leaf springs and parabolic leaf springs. Multi-leaf springs are mainly preferred when higher load is required to be carried in the vehicle. Conventional multi-leaf springs require 8 to 11 leaves within the pack to carry the desired load whereas parabolic springs have the capability to carry the same load with only up to 4 leaves. A parabolic leaf spring consists of two or more leaves (but lesser than a conventional one) and its thickness varies from center to the end following a parabolic shape.

Steel is the most dominant material used in manufacturing all types of leaf springs. It is used across vehicle types from light to medium & heavy duty commercial vehicles. Glass fiber reinforced plastics (GFRP) or composite leaf springs is another material type which is gaining industry acceptance over a period of time. Composite leaf springs offer excellent strength to weight ratio, fatigue resistance, and natural frequency and is about five times more durable than a steel spring. Epoxy resin and glass fiber are mainly used to produce a composite leaf spring through Prepreg Layup or Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) process. It is used mainly in the passenger cars, light and medium duty vehicles. For instance, General Motors switched to composite leaf springs in Corvette C7 and saved up to 16kg of unsprung weight and yet maintained same spring rates.

The key players of leaf spring markets are Rassini, Hendrickson, Jamna Auto Industries, Dong Feng Motors, NHK Spring Co. Ltd, Ventura, and IFC Composite.

Drivers and Challenges

The OEM demand for leaf springs is directly proportional to production of the light and medium & heavy duty commercial vehicles. The global production of light and medium & heavy commercial vehicles is increasing as a result of economic growth, increasing disposable income, growing commercial business and industrial activity. Global light and medium & heavy duty commercial vehicles’ production is expected to witness 2.4% CAGR and 2.7% CAGR during the forecast period 2016-2021, respectively. Increasing global fleet size of light and medium & heavy duty commercial vehicle is also generating good demand of leaf springs in the aftermarket.

Another growth driver is the advancement in the leaf spring technology driven by the demand for reduction in vehicle weight. Major automotive countries, such as the US and in Europe have imposed stringent fuel efficiency and carbon emission norms to curb the increasing global warming. All major automakers are working on using advanced materials for developing lightweight solutions to achieve these targets. Auto industry developed composite springs which is lighter and more durable than the dominated steel springs.

Strategic Market Assessment

The global leaf springs market is moderately consolidated with top five players accounting for more than 35% of the global market in 2015. The top five players are Rasini, Hendrickson, Jamna Auto Industries, NHK Springs co, Ltd, and Ventura. The global leaf springs market in the automotive industry offers good growth opportunity and is expected to witness 5.6% CAGR during the forecast period of 2016 to 2021.

Multi-leaf springs are expected to remain the largest spring type in the global automotive industry during the forecast period. In multi-leaf springs, parabolic springs are likely to gain industry traction during the forecast period, driven by its benefits, such as high flexibility, better vehicle traction, and lesser weight. The biggest advantage of the parabolic springs is the ability to reduce the overall vehicle weight as it can carry similar loads with very less number of leaves.

Steel leaf springs are expected to remain the largest spring type market in the next five years however, composite leaf springs are likely to witness the fastest growth during the same period. Composite leaf springs are gaining traction in the all vehicle type, such as passenger cars, light commercial vehicles, and medium & heavy duty vehicles. Key composite spring manufacturers are continuously working on the development of advanced leaf springs for heavy commercial vehicles. Recently, IFC Composite, a composite springs manufacturer, developed a fiber reinforced spring for a 40-ton truck.

Asia-Pacific is expected to remain the largest market for leaf springs during the forecast period due to increasing production of light and medium & heavy duty vehicles in developing Asian economies, such as China and India. China is expected to remain the world’s largest light and commercial vehicles market during the forecast period. Automotive industry in India is also growing at good pace, thus creating good demand of leaf springs in India.

There is a gradual shift in the supply of leaf springs from the developed regions to the developing regions. Continuous increasing indigenous automotive production in developing countries and the low cost production advantage are the major factors pushing this shift to developing countries. Major local springs manufacturers are increasing their production capacity to meet the indigenous demand of leaf springs and also export it to the international market. This trend will continue to remain the same during the forecast period.

Growth Opportunities

Global leaf spring market is sustainable with healthy growth opportunity during the forecast period. There is a good growth potential in the entire value chain of the leaf springs across the world but all leaf springs stakeholders need to formulate the right strategy to gain competitive edge and to win in the market space. The following are few high growth strategies that industry stakeholders can adopt to gain competitive edge over others:

  • Focus on the Asia-Pacific Region: Asia-Pacific is expected to remain the growth engine of the automotive leaf springs market during the forecast period, driven by increasing demand in China and India. The region is expected to exhibit the fastest growth during the forecast period.
  • Focus on Parabolic Leaf Springs: Parabolic leaf springs are expected to be in higher demand than conventional leaf springs during the forecast period as it offers weight saving, greater flexibility, better riding comfort and is capable of handling increased stress levels and reduced inter-leaf friction.
  • Develop Lightweight Leaf Springs, such as Composite Leaf Springs: Composite leaf springs are still at nascent stage with significant growth potential ahead. This technology is continuously gaining market traction and is likely to experience the fastest growth during the forecast period due to the advantage of lightweight and more durability than steel made leaf springs. Companies with the ability of developing lightweight leaf springs will have significant edge over competing companies.
  • Collaborate with Customers: Leaf spring manufacturers should work closely with automakers and plot their requirements in more detail and then develop the leaf springs meeting specific requirements. This will help to develop long term relations with automakers and tap the future potential.

Conclusion

Leaf springs play a vital role in the suspension system in both commercial and passenger vehicles. In the next five years, leaf springs market is sustainable and is expected to witness fastest growth in the automotive industry as compared to helical and other springs.

There is a good growth opportunity existing in the global automotive leaf spring market across its value chain. Both light vehicles and commercial vehicles are expected to offer healthy growth opportunity during the forecast period of 2016 to 2021.

Asia-Pacific region will remain the growth engine of the leaf springs market for both light and commercial vehicle segments. Increasing production of light and commercial vehicles and large vehicle fleet size in China and India are likely to drive the robust demand of leaf springs in new as well as aftermarket in the Asia-Pacific region.

Leaf springs manufacturers with focus on the development of innovative products addressing the burning issues, such as fuel efficiency, carbon emissions, and better riding comfort are strategically aligned with the market requirements and will gain competitive edge over the period.

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