Lawrence W Kavanagh, president of the Steel Market Development Institute, a business unit of the American Iron & Steel Institute (AISI) predicts that steels currently being designed into vehicles due to hit the streets in 2018-2020 will ‘reassert the superiority of such materials in terms of value and performance.’
Kavanagh claims that the steel industry is working ‘hard and fast’ to ensure that steel remains the number one metal of choice for the global automotive industry going forward.
Acknowledging that carmakers are being forced to evaluate all materials at their disposal to help them reduce weight and increase fuel efficiency, Kavanagh said that today’s steels are three to five times stronger than aluminium and stronger than the steels available a decade ago.
“The toolbox of steels available today is bigger and it is expanding at a faster rate than ever, before,” Kavanagh said, adding that the steel industry can deliver lighter, stronger and more formable materials at higher value than the alternatives currently available.
“Yes, high-strength steels weld and form differently, so adjustments in the production process are necessary, but they don’t require wholesale changes,” he said.
According to Kavanagh, the steel industry can go much further. “This process won’t stop,” he said. “It’s a big commitment, but it’s our business to innovate,” he said, explaining how the steel industry was busy working on the development of advanced high-strength steels when the White House finalised its new fuel economy standards for 2025.
Today, the auto industry’s level of adoption of advanced high-strength steels is roughly 40% to 50%, meaning that much of a vehicle’s structure and body panels are still made from more conventional steel. Kavanagh believes that ‘cars don’t get fundamentally redesigned every year and that big changes only happen when there is a major platform redesign. “That’s when the big innovations in design, materials and powertrain occur,” he said.
Kavanagh said there is significantly more light-weighting to be gained simply by expanding the use of currently available steels. He said that the industry was working with carmakers to show them the kind of next-generation steels under development ‘so they can plan for them now’.
For Kavanagh there are plenty of examples of fuel-efficient, steel-intensive vehicles. He mentioned the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado mid-size pickup truck and it’s GMC Canyon sibling. Both contain 70% advanced high-strength steel and have a fuel economy rating for both city/motorway usage of 24 mpg.
According to Kavanagh, the car industry won’t benefit from advanced high-strength steels overnight. “It’s going to take another few years to play out,” he said, adding “our products get the job done at superior value – so we know we’re going to win at the end of the day.”