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Zinc, steel in fight vs. aluminum: IZA

Keywords: Tags  IZA, International Zinc Association, zinc, aluminum, steel, Ford Motor, F-150 pickup, Andrea Hotter

DANA POINT, Calif. — The zinc and steel industries are working to fight back against the move toward increased aluminum in cars, an International Zinc Association (IZA) executive said.

Zinc and steel are suffering the same percentage loss in the overall market as a result of the move by Ford Motor Co. to use aluminum, IZA director of technology and market development Frank Goodwin said at the group’s annual conference in California.

"Zinc and steel are working to battle off the aluminum incursion, and it’s going to be a difficult time for us," he said. "I think we’ve got a good chance to beat back against this and ensure the future for galvanized steel in automotives."

But it won’t be an easy task, he said.

Ford’s F-150 pickup truck—revealed at the Detroit auto show last month (, Jan. 13)—could use about 600 pounds of aluminum per vehicle, analysts estimate.

"The F-150 is the largest-selling vehicle in North America—the move to aluminum is a huge step with major consequences for Ford, as well as the zinc and steel industries," Goodwin said, adding that the zinc industry is looking at a loss of between 10,000 and 18,000 tonnes of zinc annually due to the new F-150.

Goodwin told delegates that 600 pounds of aluminum will replace 1,000 pounds of steel in the F-150. It will also cost $800 more than the steel it replaces, plus $1 billion to convert production lines.

The introduction of the aluminum-intensive truck is part of Ford’s ongoing effort to manufacture lightweight vehicles capable of exceeding current fuel economy standards.

"Until now, the use of aluminum in cars has been relatively small," Goodwin said.

Aluminum has mainly been used in low-volume vehicles, as well as some higher-volumes vehicles in "hang-on" parts like hood and truck lids, such as on the BMW 3 series.

Ford has launched a program allowing its dealerships with body shops to purchase the tools needed to work on the 2015 F-150 pickup at a significant discount, Goodwin said.

If insufficient body shops retool, higher insurance rates will impact consumers, he noted.

"Galvanized steels have continuously improved; advanced steels to meet the fuel efficiency mandates for 2025 are nearing production," Goodwin said. "The zinc industry has played a key role through the Galvanized Autobody Partnership."

Between 2000 and 2013, the partnership’s work helped ensure that the average auto content of advanced high-strength steels went from zero to 200 pounds, fighting off competition from other materials like aluminum and plastics.

It’s a completely different story in China and India, where the growing auto market uses relatively little zinc.

"We’ll play offence in China and India to bring the countries up to the level of galvanized steel we have in North America and Europe," Goodwin said.

Less than 20 percent of China’s 20 million vehicles contain galvanized material. In India, the figure is just 3 percent.

"This gives us a market potential of 750,000 tonnes of annual zinc production," Goodwin said.

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