Auto still holds the most promise . . . but not without peril

Aug 01, 2009 | 05:36 AM |

By now, almost everyone who made the typical New Year's resolution has long since abandoned hope of getting lighter and stronger. Not so for the North American steel industry, which realized years ago that it must develop products that are lighter, stronger and more adaptable to the changing needs of a wide customer base.

Despite the global economic crisis, North American steel producers are still devoting millions of dollars to research into high-strength steels (HSS) as they attempt to regain market share lost to lighter metals like aluminum while at the same time making products stronger and safer for consumers.

"All of our divisions in Sweden and in the U.S. are pursuing high-strength steels in various products," said David Britten, president of SSAB North America Inc., Lisle, Ill., a unit of Sweden's Svenskt Stal AB (SSAB). "We see smaller niche opportunities in different market segments. We think there are more opportunities for growth in these markets."

Automakers who find themselves under increasingly stringent environmental regulations naturally are drawn to lighter, high-strength steels because they are more environmentally friendly. Less weight in the steel means higher payloads and improved mileage, and thus fewer trips and less vehicle wear and tear, among other environmental benefits.

"That's certainly part of it," Britten said. "People want to go green, if you will. People want to take advantage of those kinds of things. But there are financial benefits as well when it comes to life cycle. These products are stronger and last longer—they get nicked up, sure, but they don't have to be replaced as often."....

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