Steel makers to battle auto use of lightweight aluminum image

Automakers, spearheaded by Ford’s transition to an all-new military grade aluminum intensive F-150 pickup truck, have signaled the end of an era. The steelmakers in turn want to prove them wrong.

The latest auto revolution seems to be upon us – after decades of using aluminum only in certain components or for niche models (remember Audi’s aluminum Space Frame?), Ford is changing its production technique to build the F-150 with aluminum. It’s not the only one, by all means – the recently unveiled Jaguar XE sedan uses the lightweight metal for around 75% of the model’s components.

“The steel industry is taking the new uses for aluminum very seriously,” said Michael Robinet, managing director of IHS Automotive. “The aluminum-bodied F-150 was a wake-up call for the entire industry that they can’t count on automotive business any more.”

Now, the steel industry wants to fight back the increased usage of aluminum. The latter has weight on its side, but costs a lot more than its rival – according to Bloomberg it averaged in the past five years around $2,200 per ton. On the other hand, steel goes for $300 per ton for sheet metal and $500 for shredded auto scrap.

“The North American steel industry has been working with carmakers to demonstrate the weight savings of advanced high-strength steels,” said Ronald Krupitzer, vice president of the Steel Market Development Institute. “We project the usage of (high-strength steel) to continue to rise,” Krupitzer added.

The analysts and industry watchers project the steel industry will further invest to shed at least in part the weight advantage of aluminum, even if they will not match the lightweight metal pound for pound. The steelmakers could focus on further research for weight savings, and coupled with the lower price opt to research the creation of structural parts for chassis and safety systems usage – rather than the usual fender and hood building.