The American Iron and Steel Institute apparently has spared its research and development efforts from substantial budget cuts instituted in March due to declining membership.

Once the envy of other material consortiums for its mammoth budget, AISI's UltraLight Steel Auto Body Advanced Vehicle Concept (ULSAB-AVC) program remains on schedule for an October disclosure, an AISI insider assures. Research and development efforts “are still in high gear,” the insider says. “No one has even muttered anything about scaling back on those programs.”

But the cutbacks did result in a number of layoffs at the Detroit-based public relations firm that handles media affairs for AISI. And a source says AISI's marketing and ad budget was cut by some 80%.

The Washington, DC-based association formed over a century ago to promote steel and develop new steel technologies. Its role has become increasingly important in the last decade as automakers increasingly consider aluminum, plastics and other alternative materials for traditional steel applications. In May of last year, AISI revealed a plan aimed at growing North American steel sales by 25% over the next five years.

Two primary reasons are causing AISI membership dues to decline. Fourteen U.S. steel companies have sought bankruptcy protection since mid-1997 when products from foreign steel companies — mostly from Russia and China — began flooding the U.S. market. Other members have quit over disputes, including Dofasco Inc. (it since has rejoined) and AK Steel Corp., which left earlier this year citing philosophical differences with a majority of the consortium's members.