"We're really committed to this business," he said. "The specialty elastomers and butyl business is just one of our businesses, but given our long history, given our proven track record and the fact that we have been able to commit to these businesses, it remains a very important one."
While each of the three families has applications in industrial and consumer markets, it's really in the auto and tire businesses that the product lines find their main growth opportunities. Aerts said ExxonMobil is the market leader for both butyl and Santoprene, and in the top three with its Vistalon EPDM material.
Its butyl unit mainly produces halobutyl rubber for tire innerliners, which are critical for air retention he said is vital for tire performance and reduction of rolling resistance, leading to increased fuel economy.
Vistalon has excellent sealing performance, ultraviolet resistance, and chemical and high temperature resistance, so Aerts said they mainly are used in sound dampening and sealing.
And the Santoprene TPVs bring top-notch processability, durability, sealing and ease of recycling, making them low-cost, high-efficiency lightweight solutions for a broad range of auto parts, Aerts said.
The auto and tire industries, he added, are looking at about 3 percent annual growth on a trend line basis, with the underlying drivers being a growing middle class and urbanization, with the biggest growth opportunities being in China.
"We see the growth for our products being a bit more than that because there are increasing trends of quality standards, performance and fuel efficiency where we see the demands for our products growing slightly above those industry numbers," the ExxonMobil official said.
Sustainability is another big driver moving into the future as it's "becoming increasingly important and it's the right thing for society to be focusing on maximizing existing resources while improving the environment," Aerts added.
"Automotive overall for us is a pretty healthy industry. The number of cars and light trucks globally is expected to double between now and 2040, to about 1.7 billion to 1.8 billion."
A major key to ExxonMobil's success in these elastomer markets is supply security, he said. The firm operates globally and looks at debottlenecking projects on a regular basis to boost capacity, but also has invested recently in a series of new projects to ensure its supply security can be guaranteed into the future.
One recent investment was with its joint venture partner, Saudi Basic Industries Corp., where the firms added butyl and EPDM production to their Kemya joint venture operation in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. ExxonMobil has 100 percent of the marketing rights for butyl and 50 percent for EPDM.