Bracing for a seismic shift to smaller, lighter ‘sippers’

Nov 01, 2008 | 05:16 AM |

The battle for market share continues to rage in the automotive arena. But smaller vehicles might have a bigger, near-term impact on metal producers than new alternative power trains, industry insiders suggest.

Whether a steel zealot or an aluminum ally, chances are that producers are seeing less metal go into the average car or truck. And that's true even if the overall marketshare of a specific metal is holding ground or even gaining slightly.

In fact, the big question might not be what metals go into the current generation of hybrids, because their materials make-up isn't necessarily radically different from traditional cars and trucks. Instead, the real issue might be what metals (or plastics and composites) next-generation vehicles such as General Motor Corp.'s plug-in electric Chevrolet Volt will ultimately settle on, some metal executives said.

For steel bar producers, hybrids currently on the road don't look very different from vehicles powered by traditional gasoline engines, according to executives at special bar quality steel producer Gerdau Macsteel, Jackson, Mich. "The hybrids that are on the ground are pretty much business as usual," said Dick Grimes, Gerdau Macsteel's manager of technical service and product development. "The axle doesn't really know whether it's being driven by a hybrid, a hybrid-electric or a diesel."

The crux of the problem isn't really a potential threat from alternative metals in hybrids, it's how to deal with the consumer shift away from big pickups and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) toward smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, company executives said. While a truck or SUV might contain about 350 pounds of parts made from steel bar, a car might have only 250 pounds, they said.....

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