The North American International Auto Show in Detroit is as big of an event for car enthusiasts as an Apple product launch is for techies. A car and tech enthusiast I am not.
But growing up in the Steel City and working on the Platts metals team has made me a bit of a metals enthusiast, and the Detroit auto show is a major event for metal enthusiasts, too.
Last year, the big news at the show was the aluminum-bodied Ford F-150 truck winning the prize for truck of the year. Some carmakers believed that aluminum would be key to helping US automobiles achieve Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. In 2012, President Barack Obama tasked automakers to boost the average fuel economy of new cars to 54.5 mpg by 2025.
Fuel economy isn’t the only way to go green, though.
“There’s another consequence when you shift away from steel, and that’s on the environmental side,” Larry Kavanagh, president of the Steel Market Development Institute, told Platts this week during a break from the auto show. Kavanagh said aluminum production emits four to five times more greenhouse gas or CO2-equivalent emissions than steel production and requires seven times the amount of energy.
A University of California at Santa Barbara study found steel and advanced high strength steel primary production emits 2.3-2.7 kg of CO2 equivalent per kilogram of material, while aluminum production expels 13.9-15.5 kg of CO2 equivalent per kilogram of material. The study also found secondary production — or recycling — of steel and advanced high strength steel emits half the CO2 equivalents of recycling aluminum.
The Steel Market Development Institute said up to 30% of the total emissions for the internal combustion engine and hybrid electric vehicles are made during the production phase. Also, almost all automotive steel is collected and recycled, contributing to the more than 80 million st of recycled steel that’s made available each year to be manufactured into new products, according to SMDI.
Jody Hall, vice president of the automotive market for SMDI, said the association is raising awareness to automakers and regulators of the greenhouse gas emissions that are created even before a car hits the road.
There are new grades of formable advanced high strength steel that are being introduced to help steel win back market share in vehicles, notably in the chassis.
At the auto show, General Motors unveiled the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu. Its lower control arm is made of steel, whereas the 2012-2015 versions were made from aluminum.
A GM spokesman said the company opted to switch to steel because it met its goals for mass reduction, lowering material cost and cutting processing costs.
The 2016 Buick LaCrosse and all-new Envision also used steel in the lower control arm, which offered comparable light weighting performance to aluminum, if not better, according to a Buick spokeswoman. There are many examples, particularly in the LaCrosse, in which Buick opted to use steel instead of other materials, she said.
“Steel is really a new technology,” Hall said. “It’s not the old technology that people think.”