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."
automakers hand was forced by stricter fuel economy and
emissions standards, Aboud said.
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."