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GM plans to increase use of aluminum in pickups

Keywords: Tags  General Motors, Ford Motor, Alcoa, Novelis, aluminum, pickups, automotive, Steel Market Development Institute Marco Palmieri

NEW YORK — General Motors Co. has signed supply contracts with Alcoa Inc. and Novelis Inc. ahead of plans to increase the use of aluminum sheet in its next-generation pickup trucks by late 2018, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The move marks a major shift in the use of aluminum sheet in domestic automotive manufacturing and further bolsters the notion that lightweighting has become the single-most important factor for automakers looking to meet federal fuel-efficiency standards.

Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. unveiled its aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150 last month (, Jan. 13). "It’s a changeover to our manufacturing facilities, our stamping plants and body construction facilities and assembly plants. But we’ve got a lot of experience in aluminum already," Raj Nair, Ford’s group vice president for product development, told AMM during the unveiling at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. "We’re spending over $1 billion at the Kansas City plant (in Missouri) for the Ford Transit and the F-150."

Atlanta-based Novelis would not confirm that the company had recently signed supply contracts with GM. "While we cannot speak to any specific customers or products, we anticipate more automakers, domestic and international, to make announcements regularly in the following years that will transform the automotive industry," Novelis North America president Marco Palmieri told AMM, adding that the company works "closely with all of the auto manufacturers to talk about design and technology concepts."

Palmieri noted that "discussions about adopting more aluminum in a vehicle typically happen years in advance as the use of aluminum influences many other decisions in the manufacturing process."

In anticipation of the spike in aluminum demand over the next decade, Novelis recently invested in three automotive finishing lines that are "dedicated to meeting the dramatic shift in demand for aluminum used for automotive," Palmieri said. "Two of the lines are running now and construction has begun on the third."

A spokeswoman for Pittsburgh-based Alcoa also declined to comment on any potential partnership with GM. "We don’t comment on who our customers are," she said. However, "we’re clearly entering the era of the aluminum vehicle. Consumers are demanding fuel efficiency without compromising safety, and aluminum is the material of choice."

The spokeswoman pointed to Alcoa’s multi-tiered expansion of its automotive sheet production capabilities, including a $300-million investment at the company’s Davenport, Iowa, facility (, Jan. 14), a $275-million investment at its plant in Alcoa, Tenn. (, May 2), and a $380-million investment at a production facility in Saudi Arabia (, Dec. 12, 2012).

The Washington-based Steel Market Development Institute declined to comment in response to a question about how GM’s increased aluminum usage will impact the steel industry.

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