While aluminum may be making inroads on steel in the automotive
sector, the vehicle of the future will be a mix of materials
rather than one dominated by either steel or aluminum,
according to one auto industry expert.
vehicle will probably sport very-high-strength steels around
its "safety cage," aluminum in the chassis and exterior panels,
and composites in brackets and engine mounts, said Jay Baron,
president and chief executive officer of the Center for
Automotive Research, Ann Arbor, Mich. Joining technologies will
become much more complex as a result, he said.
vehicle is the goal and seems to be the trend," Baron said at
the Aluminum Associations annual meeting in Farmington,
Pa. But thats not a message a "defiant" steel industry
wants to hear, he said. "Steel says we can do it at zero cost.
... And we really dont need to convert anything."
The shift toward
alternative materialshigh-strength steels, aluminum,
magnesium or compositescomes not thanks to a push by one
industry but instead because of more-stringent fuel economy
requirements, Baron said. "The game is changing because of the
regulators. Business as usual is not going to be tolerated. We
see legislative mandates as the dominant influence in the auto
industry ... through 2025."
Steel, the "incumbent,
dominant material," is fighting hard to defend its market
share, particularly against aluminum, Baron said. "The steel
industry is your biggest competitor," he told conference
attendees. "And the steel guys are very concerned. ... Aluminum
is the upcoming guy and gaining market share in the car every
Composites are a
distant third, offering big opportunities in the future but
unlikely to make significant inroads for years because of high
costs and supply chain issues, Baron said. Magnesium faces
similar challenges, he said. Aluminum, in contrast, does not.
"If you are used to steel, you can readily convert ... to
But as aluminum and
steel fight for market share they should avoid getting bogged
down in debates over which material is better based on a
life-cycle analysis (LCA), Baron said. LCA has little appeal to
an auto industry hoping to avoid adding to an already heavy
regulatory burden, he said. "Ive never heard a car
company say that they want to look at life-cycle analysis. LCA
really comes down to the assumptions you make. ... And there is
no clear-cut winner."
The auto industry has
exceeded fuel emission requirements to date and should be able
to meet them through 2020 by light-weighting and other
technologies, he said. But even light-weighting has its limits.
Even given efforts to light-weight vehicles, automakers will
struggle to meet 2025 emission requirements which appear
unrealistic without consumers switching to electric vehicles,
an unlikely development given current sales patternsa
subject automakers likely will bring up with regulators as
emission policies are reviewed, he said.
Electrification, if it
is to succeed, will require new infrastructure and government
incentives, something that to date has proven "irregular and
unpredictable in the U.S.," Baron said.