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Steel still on top despite Camry shift: SMDI

Keywords: Tags  Toyota Motor, Camry, aluminum, steel, Steel Market Development Institute, SMDI, Lawrence W. Kavanagh, American Iron and Steel Institute AISI

NEW YORK — Automotive steel proponents said that the material is in wide use today and should remain so due to its superior cost-benefit breakdown, despite reports that Toyota Motor Corp. is intensifying the use of aluminum in its 2018 Camry.

"One narrow view of the future auto industry might suggest a global shift toward increased aluminum usage in cars and trucks because many automakers need to and are evaluating alternative material designs. Invariably, what they are finding out in these evaluations is advanced high-strength steel’s ability to provide mass reduction with superior value and performance is the better solution," the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI), a business unit of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), told AMM via e-mail.

Steel is still by far the predominant material in cars on the road today, SMDI president Lawrence W. Kavanagh said in a monthly press call hosted by the AISI July 16.

"(Look at General Motors) and all its brands, Ford and its brands, and Chrysler and Jeep and Dodge and Mazda, and VW and Honda, all the major North American producers, there’s like 150 individual vehicle choices there. And we see, what, less than a handful announcing aluminum-intensive options. So, if you’re keeping score, it’s like 145 to 5," he said, adding that this should remain the case given steel’s inherent advantages in cost-benefit analyses for automakers and affordability for consumers.

"Our customers don’t announce when they keep a vehicle in steel, but trust me, look around you, it’s happening all over the place. That’s why we continue to say that our material offers all of our customers the ability to meet the regulations and return the highest value to their shareholders. That’s a business case-based decision, and that’s why the future in this market is very good for steel," Kavanagh said.

The SMDI said that it is "working closely with all automakers to lightweight their vehicles and demonstrate the ability to help automakers achieve their 2025 targets."

At least one industry analyst saw a significant victory for aluminum in Tokyo-based Toyota’s reported move on the Camry (, July 14).

"In a way it’s a bigger victory for aluminum to access Toyota because Toyota is a leader in fuel economy by hybrid and Toyota separately is a leader in gains in fuel economy by engineering and conventional technologies," John Tumazos, principal of Holmdel, N.J.-based John Tumazos Very Independent Research LLC, told AMM, adding that there are "enormous opportunities (for lightweighting) in mainstream midsize cars, not just the bigger trucks, Corvettes and Cadillacs."

Even so, a variety of factors—ranging from material costs and availability to how strictly the corporate average fuel economy (Cafe) standards are ultimately enforced—will play a role in which materials dominate future car models, he predicted.

"It’s early days in the research and each model year the optimization will change as the price of aluminum, steel and other material changes," Tumazos said.

Nat Rudarakanchana, New York, contributed to this article.

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