Steel still Viable and Innovative Auto Industry Metal, Says CEO

Although automakers are experimenting with lighter frame materials to improve gas mileage and performance, U.S. Steel CEO John P. Surma recently reminded press that steel is still an incredibly important and multipurpose material. The following article is from Detroit Free Press. Check out their website here.

What do you think of Surma’s statement — is steel going to remain a heavy player in the auto industry going forward, or are its best days now in the past?

Steel will remain dominant in auto: U.S. Steel CEO

6:37 PM, April 11, 2013   |
John P. Surma

John P. Surma, Chairman and CEO of US Steel, visits the post that trades his company’s stock after ringing the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange Monday, Nov. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) / Richard Drew/Associated Press

Nathan Bomey

Detroit Free Press Business Writer

Reports of steel’s demise as a dominant automotive material are greatly exaggerated, the head of U.S. Steel said Thursday.

“Steel is an incredibly green material. Steel can be recycled continuously without affecting its key performance attributes,” said CEO John Surma, speaking to the Automotive Press Association luncheon in Detroit.

Automakers are using lighter-weight materials such as aluminum and magnesium to improve gas mileage and meet the U.S. government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) goal of 54.5 m.p.g. by 2025. The general rule of thumb is that fuel economy rises by at least 3% to 4% when the vehicle’s mass is reduced by 10%.

That presents a threat to steel, which still represents about 60% of an average vehicle’s weight, according to the Steel Market Development Institute.

Steel is less expensive than aluminum and other alteratives, and the industry has developed a lighter-weight, high-strength steel that can help automakers boost fuel economy and reduce mass.

The competition between steel and aluminum has been intense for decades. Surma pointed to a magazine article five decades ago that claimed that steel would eventually make up a smaller portion of a vehicle’s mass because lighter materials will replace it.

“I didn’t happen then. It will not happen now,” Surma said.

But for certain high-end and performance cars, the cost of aluminum is not prohibitive. General Motors built the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray’s frame with aluminum, making the sports car 99 pounds lighter and 57% stiffer than its previous model. The automaker also recently revealed a new technology designed to improve the aluminum welding process, which has historically been harder to do on the factory floor.

Industry observers have speculated that Ford is trying to convert the F-150 series pickup truck into an aluminum body, although the Atlas concept pickup Ford unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January had no more aluminum than the current F-150.

A Ducker Worldwide study funded by the European Aluminium Association projected that U.S. automakers would incorporate 375 additional pounds of aluminum into the average vehicle by 2016. It also found that aluminum would represent 16% of a vehicle’s weight by 2025, about double today’s level.

But Surma pointed out that several new vehicles, including the Cadillac ATS and Ford Fusion, use high-strength steel.

“Now as an industry we are continuing our research on the third generation of high-strength steels,” he said, adding that steel has the advantage of being reused easily.

Contact: Nathan Bomey at tel:313-223-4743 Follow him on Twitter @NathanBomey.


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