The waiting continues. There will be no major breakthrough in 2002 regarding a large-scale magnesium application, an event that auto industry insiders began talking about a decade ago. Instead, the world's eighth most abundant element will use familiar applications such as instrument panel beams and steering wheel armatures to grow its average per vehicle content to 9 to 9.5 lbs. (4 to 4.3 kg). Trade publication American Metal Market says that's three times greater than the average in 1991, and 2002 will be the 11th consecutive year that automotive use increases.

But without an engine cradle, transmission or body frames, magnesium remains in the minor leagues of materials vying to get on a roster dominated by aluminum, steel and plastics.

The current largest single magnesium part weighs 13 to 14 lbs., (5.8 to 6.3 kg) says AMM. “In general, growth has been slower than I expected, and I would expect fairly similar growth for the next few years,” says Richard Osborne, project director of the Structural Cast Magnesium Development (SCMD) program, a coalition of national labs, the Big Three automakers and more than 35 light metal suppliers that aims to accelerate magnesium's automotive use.

Some key new magnesium components for '02 are IP beams in the '02 Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer and the cam covers for DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s new '02 Jeep Liberty, reports AMM. Also, valve covers on the 3L V-6 Duratec engine in Lincoln models reportedly will be switched from plastic to magnesium this fall. General Motors Corp. is using magnesium in several new sport/utility vehicles, including the Chevy Avalanche's steering column, IP support castings for the TrailBlazer/Envoy/Bravada and steering wheel armatures and alternator brackets on the Cadillac Escalade and Avalanche, sources say.

Mr. Osborne says the SCMD project, operating under the umbrella of the U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), hopes to resolve at least some of the critical issues facing magnesium during the next five years. “We're putting a lot of firepower at this thing,” he tells WAW.

Mr. Osborne foresees magnesium's expansion hitting seats and transfer cases next, followed by door panels and the front end applications.