The strike at General Motors Corp. will slow growth from an expected 6% to 8% to 4% to 6% for the '98 calendar year, but the '99 model year promises to be very good indeed to the powder metal industry. American Metal Market estimates that P/M parts usage in '99 models will jump 9% to 36 lbs. (16 kg), per vehicle thanks to a wide array of applications on new engines and transmissions.

GM's new 4.8L and 5.3L Gen III V-8 truck engines and Chrysler Corp.'s new 4. 7L truck V-8s lead the poundage parade, sporting big parts not usually seen on their truck-engine predecessors such as P/M bearing caps and connecting rods.

Donald G. White, executive director of the Metal Powder Industries Federation says, "The estimated forecast of 50 lbs. (23 kg) of P/M parts per family vehicle by the year 2000 is still on track." Major growth areas are powder-forged connecting rods, steel bearing caps and aluminum cam caps, plus parts for exhaust and antilock braking systems.

P/M parts are formed by pouring fine metal particles the thickness of a human hair into molds and then squeezing them with tremendous heat and pressure. The p rocess creates strong complex-shaped components requiring little or no machining.

GM's newest engine, the 3.5L "short star" Twin Cam engine - which debuts on the '99 Oldsmobile Intrigue sedan - is a showcase for high-tech precision P/M applications, Mr. White says. It uses 18 lbs. (8 kg) for many engine components including connecting rods, valve guides and valve seats.

Automakers traditionally have used parts made from powdered iron, but now they are using aluminum, copper and stainless steel powder metals. One of the major applications for aluminum powder is bearing caps on GM's I-6 light-duty trucks and the I-4 and PV-6 car engines, says Mr. White. Aluminum cam bearing caps already are in use on GM's Northstar V-8 engines.

Ford and Chrysler also are increasing P/M applications. Ford sources estimate that larger vehicles such as sport/utility vehicles, the Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car will be the first to reach the 50 lbs. per vehicle (23 kg) mark by 2000.