The Ultimate Material in Automotive Manufacturing

Cheap, strong, manufacturable, light-weight. That’s all the auto industry wants. Of course, there is no single material that meets all of these qualifications, at least not under today’s economics and technologies. The likely candidates – steel, aluminum, magnesium, and composites – each offer some benefits. Consider:

  • ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company, recently described the growing usage of Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS) in automotive applications as: 6% in 2005; 9% in 2008; 14% (f) in 2014; 32% by 2020 (data provided by ArcelorMittal at the Platts/SBB Steel Markets Europe Conference in May 2012.)
  • AHSS is the cheapest advanced structural material at an average price of $1.70/kg, and is readily available. Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymers (CFRP) are much more extensively used in aerospace, primarily because a 1 pound reduction is reportedly worth a $100 to $300 premium in this industry. While new aerospace models like Airbus’ A350 and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner employ over 50% CFRP by weight, on average polymer composites constitute less than 2% of an automobile’s total weight.
  • Based on a broad-based survey in Europe, Ducker predicts 150kg of automotive aluminum applications by 2015. However, to continue growth, it will be necessary to make significant inroads into the smaller cars (A- and B-class), which currently consume 103kg per vehicle. In Europe, these small cars make up 27% of the market, compared with 4% in the USA.
  • The global production capacity of magnesium at the end of 2010 stood at 1,320,000 metric tons. China held 82% of this capacity (1,080,000 MT), Russia holds 6% (80,000 MT), and the United States is the country with the third largest worldwide production capacity of 4% of the global amount, or 52,000 metric tons. (United States Geological Survey)
  • Industry experts estimate that carbon fiber can easily use up to 85-90 kg (200 lbs) per vehicle. For a single series model of 250,000 vehicles, that equates to 22,500 MT (50M lbs) of carbon fiber. That single series model would consume about one-half of today’s worldwide supply of carbon fiber. (Presented by Zoltek at the October 2010 SAMPE Fall Technical Conference)

Obviously, 350 words aren’t enough to hit all the issues, but it’s what we can start with. There will be more to come…

– Danny

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