Aluminum will play a larger role in vehicle content as automakers strive to create lighter and more fuel efficient cars and trucks, says Donald W. Macmillan, president of Global Automotive Products for Alcan Aluminum Ltd. This will reshape the automobile from the vehicles we drive today, Mr. Macmillan recently told the International Motor Press Assn. in New York.

He notes that aluminum usage already has set a new record during the '99 model year, and that future models promise to contain even more of the lightweight metal. Mr. Macmillan cites a report completed late in 1998 that reveals significant growth in aluminum use in '99 models. He adds that trucks, which are less fuel efficient than cars, are setting the pace in using more aluminum.

By an average of 15 lbs. (7 kg) per vehicle, '99 model light trucks, including sport/utility vehicles (SUVs) and minivans, contain more aluminum than cars. The average '99 car uses 241 lbs. (109 kg) of aluminum compared to 256 lbs. (116 kg) in the average light truck. Overall average aluminum usage this year will be 248 lbs., (116 kg) up 8.8% from the 228 lbs. (103 kg) per vehicle in 1996.

The study, conducted by Ducker Research Co. of Bloomfield Hills, MI, also says that General Motors Corp. leads the industry in total aluminum usage at 1.4 billion lbs. (635 million kg) and a content per vehicle of 271 lbs. (123 kg). Ford Motor Co. follows with 253 lbs. (115 kg) per vehicle and DaimlerChrysler Corp. is third with 228 lbs. (104 kg) per vehicle. Transplants average 226 lbs. (103 kg) per vehicle, the study says.

GM vehicles that use significantly more aluminum in new models than the ones they replace include the 2000 Cadillac DeVille, up 20% to 458 lbs. (208 kg), Buick LeSabre, up 43% to 325 lbs. (147 kg); and Chevrolet Suburban, up 24% to 331 lbs. (150 kg). The new Chevrolet Tahoe also uses 24% more aluminum, now 350 lbs. (159 kg) and the GMC Sierra pickup uses 27% more, 285 lbs. (129 kg), based on the study.

Overall, total aluminum content of '99 model North American-built vehicles will be 3.8 billion lbs. (1.7 billion kg) based on a forecast of 15.4 million units. This easily could be surpassed, because the industry is running at a pace of more than 16 million units so far this year.

Although the 3.8 billion-lb. estimate is 102% more than total content in '91 vehicles, aluminum usage is increasing at a declining rate. An increase of 150 lbs. per unit, or 4.3% per year, has been recorded since 1977. But the annual growth rate since 1996 has been 2.8%. Individual model leaders are the Ford F-series pickup truck platform that uses more than 200 million lbs. (91 million kg) of aluminum annually. The Plymouth Prowler, with 963 lbs. (425 kg) of aluminum per unit, is the overall single vehicle content leader. The new Lincoln LS "will be the most aluminum 'closure-intensive' volume vehicle in North America," Mr. Macmillan notes.