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Severstal looks to boost quality of auto steels

Keywords: Tags  Dennis Johnson, steel, automotive steel, Severstal North America, electrogalvanized steel, annealing, Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK — Severstal North America Inc. is looking to grow its footprint in the automotive industry as it pushes to create higher-quality steels, develop new technology and meet higher standards for its automotive customers, according to Dennis Johnson, the steelmaker’s vice president of quality, advanced engineering and continuous improvement.

"One of the big things we’re working on ... is that we’re seeing a lot more from our customers in the automotive world who are asking us for solutions. They’re not asking us to give them something, they want us to tell them what they need," Johnson told AMM during an interview at Severstal’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. "The old world is that they would tell us what they need and we would do it. The new world is that we tell them what they need and how to develop new solutions."

While automakers are looking to meet certain requirements, including corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, they have been working to push boundaries on new technologies to create steels with better formability and stiffness, Johnson, who succeeded 29-year veteran Christopher Kristock (, Sept. 27), said.

Case in point: the steelmaker is in the middle of building its advanced engineering lab, slated for completion in the middle of 2014, to "develop materials quicker" and be "part of the solution that the auto industry is looking for from us," he said.

After several delays and setbacks in funding, the company is still committed to building a new continuous annealing line at its Dearborn operations to produce advanced ultra high-strength steels.

"What is needed in the industry is more continuous annealing lines," he said. "We’re still actively pursuing that. We don’t have a specific timeline but it’s very much a part of the discussion we have about our strategy and what we want to do."

While some in the industry are concerned about steel losing in a big way to alternative materials, including aluminum, particularly when it comes to serving the needs of the automotive industry, Johnson said those fears can be abated.

"The big three (automakers) don’t want to use (aluminum). They know that steel is greener than aluminum, they know that steel is cheaper than aluminum and they know that steel is more formable than aluminum. ... I think that the American public isn’t going to accept taking trade-offs for safety in order to meet the CAFE standards," he said.

"The American people know that Superman is the man of steel. They know who Iron Man is. There’s no aluminum man. When people think of aluminum, they think of tin foil and Pepsi cans," he added. "I think the American public will have a hard time accepting that my car that’s protecting my family is made of aluminum."

Earlier this year, Severstal announced it would dissolve its Double Eagle Steel Coating Co. electrogalvanized steel joint venture with Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel Corp. in efforts to shift toward its hot-dipped coated technology (, July 15).

The team has done a good job of transferring customers from its electrogalvanizing line into its hot-dipped line, which Johnson said was running at full capacity.

As for the future automotive focus for Severstal, the company continues to look into the market and deal with changes, he said.

"The numbers are always changing. I think that it’s important to keep a good mix because no one really knows what’s going to happen. But I don’t see any indications that the automotive industry will slow down anytime soon. We’re actively looking now about where we want our mix to be."

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