The American steel industry didn’t get its dander up when automakers started messing with things like aluminum spaceframes and carbon fiber: the vehicles so designed tended to be pricey, low-volume, and, well, un-American.
That was before Ford decided that what the world needed now was an aluminum F-150, and when the single largest-selling vehicle in the country makes a switch like this — well, there’s a full-page ad in the buff books, which I saw in Motor Trend, the first of the February 2015 issues I read, extolling the virtues of steel and not even mentioning That Other Metal. Inevitably, there’s a Web site, at autosteel.org, and so I figured I’d see who was up to this:
The Automotive Applications Council (AAC) is a subcommittee of the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) and focuses on advancing the use of steel in the highly competitive automotive market.
The SMDI Automotive Market program continues to be the catalyst for bringing together steel, automotive industry, and federal partners (such as the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation) to conduct research, provide technology transfer, and promote steel-intensive solutions in the marketplace. Advanced high-strength steels, which are the fastest-growing materials in automotive design, enable our automotive customers to deliver vehicles that are more lightweight, fuel-efficient, and affordable, while still protecting passengers.
That last bit, about protecting passengers, might well turn out to be their best talking point, since a fair percentage of the public is familiar with aluminum only as foil or beer cans, neither of which is exactly known for puncture resistance.
Participants in the SMDI include three big domestic producers — AK (a merger of Armco and Kawasaki), Nucor, and US Steel, and major European producer ArcelorMittal. A quick glance at the financials indicate that all four of these firms have taken substantial hits to the bottom line of late, so it’s no surprise that they’re trying to keep things from getting worse.