Fuel economy standards are changing. Tom Boney runs an automotive business for Novelis, which is an aluminum company. He sees more people migrate to the lightweight metal.
The future of Aluminum
If Tom is disappointed that Jeep did not select aluminum for the whole body of the next-generation Wrangler, then he is certainly not showing it. He also does not seem concerned that Toyota, Ram, GMC and Chevrolet are still selecting steel for most of their pickups. In 2025, the government will be setting a fuel economy standard of 54.5 miles per gallon. Tom believes that more manufacturers will be turning to aluminum so that they can meet that goal. And, in turn, the recycling industry will also see an increase in aluminum recycling.
Ford did something drastic to make the switch. They spent over $1 billion tearing down plants so that they could convert from steel to silver. Tom understands that not every company is able to do what Ford did. He will be happy if the body of the car is made out of steel, but the doors, trunk lids and hoods are made out of aluminum.
Aluminum alloy is composed of several different elements, including zinc, magnesium, copper and silicon. Finding the right combination of elements is similar to baking a cake. Aluminum has two major obstacles if it wants to replace steel. Aluminum will have to be stronger and thinner in the future. It will also have to become more formable so that it is able to shape vehicles coming out in the future.
The steel industry suffered when Ford decided to use aluminum for the F-150. However, the steel industry still has a variety of lightweight products. It also has a lot of advantages. Almost every automaker manufacturing system is designed to be welded with steel.
One of the first vehicles to be made out of a combination of aluminum and steel was the CT6. The combination of the metals helped improve the fuel economy. It is estimated that 65 percent of the CT6’s body is made out of aluminum. The rest of it was made out of steel.
GM will start using its patented, new aluminum welding process. Like the F-150, many of the parts of the CT6 have been designed to be serviced. That is why accidental damage can be repaired in most cases.
GM has estimated that 200 pounds were saved by using aluminum CT6. It is estimated that GM will use the same approach for new models of the GMC Sierra Pickups and the Chevrolet Silverado. If you take a look at the way that the CT6 is assembled, it is obvious that Alcoa, Novelis and other competitors have a lot of work to do if they will be using aluminum to assemble cars.
The cost of aluminum can be decreased drastically if aluminum is replaced with steel by changing the welding tips on the assembly line robots and using fasteners in some areas. Tom Summe is the vice president of global research and development for Novelis. He believes that welding will replace riveting and bonding in the future.