New regulations accelerate automotive lightweighting

Dec 31, 2012 | 07:00 PM | Nathan Laliberte

Tags  Tesla Motors Inc., Model S, automotive lightweighting, Jay Baron, Center for Automotive Research, HSS, high-strength steel, Steel Market Development Institute SMDI

The automotive sector is changing more rapidly than it has at any time during the past two decades. New regulations, coupled with renewed consumer demand for ultra-fuel-efficient vehicles, have given rise to a diverse set of challenges for automakers. In turn, suppliers of steel and aluminum have been asked to provide lighter-weight materials that also offer greater ductility, elongation and tensile strength.

In response to such demands, a number of metal producers--particularly those in the aluminum sector--are projecting unprecedented growth in 2013, while others point to a decline in certain steel products.

“(Last year) was a good year for the automotive industry,” said Dave Anderson, senior director on the automotive technical panel at the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI). “In addition, we see 2013 shaping up as a good year for production in North America in the automotive sectorÑand that includes the steel that goes into cars and trucks. We are estimating that steel will (account for) 58 to 68 percent of the average vehicle, so with increased production we anticipate increased demand for steel.”

However, the sentiment for outmoded steels--namely, mild steel--is less optimistic. Because of growing demand for ultra-light, super-strong metals and composites, many automakers are planning to trim their use of heavier, less-technologically advanced components.

“Most of the mild steel applications--hood, fender, body panels--can be readily lightweighted using other types of metals,” said Jay Baron, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “That’s where mild steels are generally foundÑin high-formability and low-structural-roll components. Those panels are very conducive to aluminum.”....

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