Hoping to answer the call made by General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner earlier in the day, the American Iron and Steel Institute last Monday (May 14) announced two more initiatives aimed at developing lighter weight steel applications.

The projects will concentrate on front-end structures and closure panels. Steel manufacturers hope the projects — building on others that have been released since 1998 — will help steel regain applications that have been converted by automakers to more traditionally light materials such as aluminum and plastic. The auto industry has been highly focused on vehicle weight for the past decade, and GM's Mr. Wagoner says that trend isn't about to stop. “Bottom line — we have a need for lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. We have many choices, as you know, from plastics and magnesium, to carbon fiber and aluminum, to steel. But the fact is, we like steel. We're tooled and processed for steel.”

The front-end structure project will use as its baseline the UltraLight Steel Auto Body program, which was well received when it was unveiled three years ago but has not been used by automakers in a production vehicle. Work will target achieving a double 5-star rating in U.S. government crash tests and overall Good rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's 40 mph/40% offset deformable barrier crash test. A second project will expand upon 2000's UltraLight Steel Auto Closures study by developing — into addition to a door — hoods, trunks and hatchbacks that offer a 25% weight reduction. “These advances include new joining methods, new manufacturing processes, improved materials and more precise modeling and simulation,” says an AISI spokesman.

While the steel industry studies have been well received, none are known to have found their way into a product program. That's got to change. “We're not just asking you to design to our functional requirements — we're asking your best technical people to put their heads together with our best technical people to turn dreams into reality,” Mr. Wagoner says. “You know the benefits of your technological benefits better than we do at GM — we look to you to help us get them into our products, and to our customers, fast.”

There's no timeline for results to be released.