There’s Another Potential Shortage Causing Automakers Headaches — And It’s Not Microchips: News

2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch
A global semiconductor shortage is impacting the automotive industry, but it’s not the only logistics issue suppliers are worried about, according to new reports. (Photo: Ford, used for example purposes)

The car industry faces a new shortage of seat foam

What’s been dominating the news cycle over the past weeks is a global semiconductor shortage that’s wreaking havoc across multiple industries, including the automotive sector. While many have scaled back or paused production without chips on hand, manufacturers may have a new shortage to worry about. A recent Automotive News report notes the recent winter storm that severely impacted the state of Texas in late February, shutting down oil refineries that produce the raw materials used to create seating foam.

Anonymous executives said of the matter, “Everyone is scrambling. The problem is bigger and closer than the semiconductor issue.” Found underneath the cloth or leather, seat foam is typically made from polyurethane, an organic polymer derived from petroleum and natural gas byproducts, namely propylene oxide. As Texas refineries went offline, so did the means to get the precursors used to make polyurethane that goes into seat foam.

Sources speaking to AutoNews said the issue was a “threat, not a given.” Several automakers said the shortage would not have any immediate production impacts, unlike suppliers higher up the chain. The consensus is that it’s too early to tell whether this will have a farther-reaching impact, though some executives mentioned possible issues during the second half of March. Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, General Motors and Stellantis all said they were keeping an eye on the situation.