NEW YORK Aluminum producers havent done enough to drive innovation and encourage the automotive sector to use the material, according to aluminum industry executives.
The industry as a whole has been "pretty disappointing" in its approach to research and development, particularly in the automotive sector, Matt Aboud, president of Hydro Aluminum Metals USA LLC, said during a question-and-answer session at AMMs Aluminum Summit in New York. "The real innovation is happening from the customers." The auto industry has decided that aluminum is "their metal of the future, but they came to the decision fully independent of the aluminum industry selling them on that idea."
Instead, automakers hand was forced by stricter fuel economy and emissions standards, Aboud said.
Philip Martens, president and chief executive officer of Atlanta-based Novelis Inc., largely agreed. He characterized aluminum research and development efforts as "fragmented" and "skittish," focused mostly on upstream technology and process improvement. "The real change thats being driven is not by an aluminum roller or an aluminum upstream company; its being driven by the end-use consumer," he said.
But the tide is turning, Martens suggested. "The demand pull from the people who process the aluminum to meet the end-use consumer are coming to us and saying, We need to collaborate at a much higher level," he said.
Aboud said that for an integrated producer, having a healthy downstream business helps in providing a strong "interface with customers." An upstream producer might want to find an alloy or application attractive to automakers but finds itself "several steps away" from those companies, he said, which means seeking out downstream partners and potentially "messy" joint ventures. "Being an integrated company (lets us) get the closeness with the customer, understand their needs and bring it all the way back up the supply chain to find the casthouse product that starts the process of creating the ultimate end-product solution."