From a standpoint of metals evolution, aluminum seems to have encroached on its main adversary, steel, in the booming global automobile industry, as lower costs, greater flexibility, and lightness have had a salutary effect on ever-increasing gasoline bills.
When analyzing typical materials content of manmade automobiles and light trucks, iron and molded steel still dominate with 55%. High strength steel makes up another 15%, while aluminum and plastics each comprise 10%. The final 10% consists of copper, titanium, etc.
Currently, Ford Motor’s new F-150 truck, weighing in at 700 pounds lighter than the 2009 model, is replacing some of its steel with aluminum. But while aluminum will likely take increasing market share, this transition will be slow and tentative. When adjusted for relative density, wear and tear, as well as safety, even the latest aluminum developments can hardly compete with steel and iron in terms of strength.
Also favoring steel is the sheer tradition that car makers have developed since the motor vehicle’s inception. From users to distribution, to maintenance and repair is something that heavy metal has dominated.
Another is relative material cost. Auto grade steel costs about a third to half the price of auto grade aluminum. While using more aluminum in trucks and luxury vehicles, where price margins are higher, it’s easier to justify “industrial grade aluminum.”
The global steel industry, which had seen softness in the second half of 2013 and in 2014, due to a relative glut, continues to “fight back,” with improved tensile strength in automotive steels at the high end. And new high-strength steels being developed are expected to cost 60% as much as conventional steel, according to metal analysts.
With China achieving new dominance in overall numbers of cars and trucks being manufactured in its domestic factories, as the sheer numbers of its driving population demand it, that nation’s world leadership in annual steel tonnage production, while substantially expanding their aluminum capacity, may soon give a hint as to the winner of this race for supremacy in the ongoing battle between steel and aluminum as a leading long-term industrial base.