After the unprecedented winter storm in Texas and other states last month, auto makers and suppliers could be slammed by yet another devastating parts shortage that could idle seating plants as early as next week.
The blizzard halted the region's critical petrochemical plants, which could lead to a shortage in automotive seating foam, industry sources say.
The storm that left millions without heat or power amid subfreezing temperatures has impacted production of oil refinery byproducts used to make propylene oxide needed for the polyurethane foam found in auto seats.
The potential shortage comes as the supply-constrained industry navigates an unexpected rebound in consumer demand and an alarming microchip shortage that has halted production lines for a number of auto makers.
An auto-industry executive who spoke with Crain's Detroit Business on the condition of anonymity said some seating supplier assembly lines were expected to run out of foam by March 8.
"A lot of production is down still for oil refinery byproduct and in a few days no one is going to be able to make" propylene oxide, the executive said. "Everyone is scrambling. This problem is bigger and closer than the semiconductor issue."
Others expect the impact of the foam shortage to hit sometime mid-month.
A North America-based purchasing executive with an automaker told Automotive News March 4 that while the potential shortage is not an immediate issue for vehicle assembly plants, it may surface in a few weeks.
"It's currently a threat, not a given," the executive said. "The first impact is the second half of March. … I assume everyone is looking for alternative supplies globally."
The UAW would need to be notified of production cuts a few days before they happen, the executive added.
Auto maker response
Several auto makers said that they do not yet anticipate plant stoppages, but many said they are monitoring the situation.
"GM continues to work closely with the supply base to mitigate the impacts caused by the significant winter weather that affected a large portion of the country the week of Feb. 15," said spokesman David Barnas. "We don't anticipate any immediate production impacts."
Toyota Motor North America also said it is coordinating with suppliers.
"We are aware of the petrochemical industry's condition and are working with our supplier partners to mitigate any impact to our production plan," said Toyota spokesman Eric Booth. "At this time, it is too early to predict the potential near-term impact."
A spokesman for Hyundai, which has a recently expanded factory in Alabama to build the redesigned Tucson compact crossover, said: "We are in contact with our seat supplier, but don't have any information yet on whether we will have an issue."
Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia is similarly monitoring the situation, a spokesman said.
"We are aware of the chemical shortage concerns affecting seat foam supply across the industry and are monitoring our supply chain closely," spokesman Rick Douglas said.
As of Monday, U.S. BMW production had not been impacted by the shortage, said company spokesman Phil Diianni.
Ford Motor Co. declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for Stellantis, the newly named entity from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and France's PSA, said in an emailed statement: "We are closely monitoring the situation. At this time, we do not expect an impact on our operations."
Some seating suppliers also say they have not yet felt the pinch from the shortage.
French seating and electronics supplier Faurecia said it had not experienced any impact as of March 3.
Suburban Detroit seating supplier Lear Corp. declined to comment on the situation. Canadian supply giant Magna International and seating supplier Adient did not respond to inquiries on the topic by this publication.
Dustin Walsh is a reporter for Crain's Detroit Business. Larry Vellequette, Laurence Iliff, Michael Martinez, Hannah Lutz, Urvaksh Karkaria and Philip Nussel of Automotive News, and Greg Layson of Automotive News Canada contributed to this report.