2020 was certainly a rough year for everyone, but 2021 isn't exactly winning hearts for many in the United States thus far. Political turmoil and continued COVID-19 concerns from January quickly morphed into a February winter weather catastrophe in the southern States, shutting down power throughout the area. A good chunk of US-based oil refineries are in that region, and oil isn't just used for fuel.
Petrochemical plants are found throughout the south and foam production was impacted by the mid-February arctic blast, according to Automotive News. Oil is required to make the polyurethane foam used in automotive seats, and an anonymous source told the news outlet that plants manufacturing foam inserts could shut down as early as March 8. Specifically, propylene oxide is a by-product of the refining process needed for the foam and with some refineries still experiencing problems, there's a shortage in the supply line.
Of course, there are other locations around the world where oil is refined but the question seems to be whether these new suppliers can be tapped quick enough to avoid a larger production shutdown. The article cites other sources in the auto industry as stating foam production could be impacted in mid-month, and that could ultimately translate to vehicle production issues in the coming weeks. Or, it's possible foam production could ramp back up if all the necessary ingredients are found in time.
The foam issue is another piece of the manufacturing puzzle that remains sketchy as we near the end of the first quarter of 2021. A global shortage of computer chips is already taking a toll in the automotive realm, with GM facing temporary production shutdowns at multiple plants. The automaker's 2021 production could ultimately drop by over 200,000 vehicles because of the chip shortage, and that doesn't factor in continued supply chain issues felt by all brands due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.