Aluminum Rising

Aluminum has surpassed iron and taken the number-two spot on the list of materials used in automobiles worldwide.

Aluminum has surpassed iron and taken the number-two spot on the list of materials used in automobiles worldwide. So reports the Auto & Light Truck Group of the Aluminum Association (www.autoaluminum.org; Washington, DC ), based on a study conducted for it by Ducker Worldwide (www.ducker.com; Troy, MI). Looking at North America in particular, there is an average of 319 lb. of aluminum used in light vehicles, up 16% since 2002. When North America, the European Union and Japan are combined, the average content will be 279 lb. in ’06 versus 225 lb. in 2000.

The primary application areas for aluminum are the powertrain, driveline, wheels, and heat exchangers. According to Misha Riveros-Jacobson, president, Alcoa Advanced Transportation Systems (http://www.alcoa.com/aats/en/home.asp; Cleveland), “Europe leads the pace” in innovative applications of aluminum. She points out that the aluminum content for the average European vehicle, absent those just-mentioned applications, is 69 lb., and it is no more than 54 lb. for North American vehicles. Both regions lead Japan, where the ’06 vehicles would have 30 lb. of aluminum content other than those aforementioned applications. Overall, however, North American vehicles lead, with an average 319 lb. total, and 259 lb. for European Union and 251 lb. for Japanese vehicles. (One might argue that the cars in both the European Union and Japan tend to be smaller than North American vehicles.)

Some of the applications where European vehicle manufacturers are focusing aluminum application, Riveros-Jacobson cites, are bodies-in-white, instrument panels and enclosure panels. Looking at the last-named: there are nearly 140 enclosure panel programs underway in Europe, according to the Ducker study, and about 40 each in both North America and Japan.

While aluminum has taken the second position, it is still a long away behind steel, which has an average content per vehicle of 1,800 lb.

Asked who within North American auto companies needs to be convinced of the benefits of aluminum, Riveros-Jacobson answers that it has to be vehicle program managers. She explains that if the discussion is centered on just the bill-of-materials rather than on overall innovation, then aluminum is going to have “an uphill climb” because what needs to be taken into account is not just piece cost, but “value to the total system.”

Some vehicle manufacturers must be convinced. The association reports that there are nearly 50 models being built in ’06 that represent two million units of production that will contain over 500 lb. of aluminum. Of those vehicles, about 100,000 will have complete aluminum body structures.—GSV