Dow Chemical Co.'s at it again: after its recent pullout from magnesium production (see WAW - Jan. '99, p.57), the company now says it will license its magnesium-production technology to someone else.

One Ford Motor Co. executive believes Dow's move may forge the beginning of a possible coalition among automakers that would support the development and research of magnesium through a chain of Tier 1 suppliers, die casters and universities.

T.A. (Tom) Sweder, Ford manager of weight engineering-advanced vehicle technology, stresses that a possible coalition so far is nothing more than a product of brainstorming sessions and says Ford hasn't approached other automakers about the idea. But he adds Dow's decision to exit the magnesium business late last fall has left more of a technical void in the market than a supply shortage, he adds. "That's what we're worried about," says Mr. Sweder.

One roadblock to a coalition is deciding how companies would work together without revealing proprietary information. But similar associations, such as the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), the Aluminum Assn. and the Auto/Steel Partnership have managed the issue.

The Auto/Steel Partnership most resembles Ford's initial concept for a new magnesium coalition; it includes 11 automakers and steel suppliers that jointly oversee strategic committees, task forces and projects focused on everything from reducing tooling costs to making more resilient steel. A Dow spokesperson says a non-exclusive arrangement, meaning more than one company could license Dow's technology, is possible.

One of the concerns facing magnesium - procurement and supply - seems to be dissipating, at least from a long-term perspective. "Magnesium is popping up everywhere," says Mr. Sweder.