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AUTOMOTIVE ALUMINUM Automakers are stalking the lure of synergistic solutions


Aluminum continues to win favor among automakers, having surpassed iron as the second-most-used material in the manufacture of automobiles.

Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Tokyo, long ago saw the wisdom of using aluminum in its vehicles and continues that philosophy today. "Honda has a history going back decades of using aluminum in our cars, especially in our engines, " a spokesman for the Japanese automaker said. "All of our engines are aluminum now, including both blocks and heads."

Honda's most aluminum-intensive vehicle is the Acura RL sports sedan, the spokesman said. The vehicle qualifies as a high-content vehicle, with more than 500 pounds of the light metal on board, including an aluminum hood, front fender, trunk lid and trunk lid frame. The company's S2000 sports convertible also features an aluminum hood.

Joining the Acura on the list of high-aluminum-content vehicles from Japanese automakers are four models from Toyota Motor Corp. and three from Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. All of the Japanese automakers have extensive manufacturing operations in the United States.

The Honda spokesman said his company is now beginning to incorporate exhaust manifolds into its engine block designs. This will increase the aluminum content in vehicles as the manifold will be made from aluminum, as well as reduce the number of components—one example of the synergistic solutions presented by aluminum for automakers.

Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich., also sees growth for aluminum in the auto sector, with the lightweight metal winning substitution battles with steel in some cases, a company spokeswoman said. However, aluminum also must compete against other materials, including magnesium and composites.

Aluminum growth comes mainly in castings for larger engines, she said, but eventually will extend to smaller engines as well, driven by the need for mass reduction to achieve better fuel economy and performance. Closures like hoods and roofs also are moving to aluminum.

No lightweight when it comes to lightweighting, General Motors Corp., Detroit, has five vehicles on the list of high-aluminum-content vehicles. In addition to Chevrolet's flagship Corvette speedster, four Cadillac models—the CTS, STS, DTS and XLR—all tip the scales with more than 500 pounds of aluminum.

High-end autos like the new Jaguar XK and Audi A8 have bodies made entirely of aluminum. Audi is well known for its Teutonic, aluminum-skinned autos. Audi's new R8, features aluminum sheet from Novelis Inc., Atlanta.

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