As fuel-efficiency rules tighten around the globe, most analysts are forecasting steel to begin losing market share to lighter alternative materials such as aluminum and carbon-fiber composites.
ArcelorMittal SA, the world's largest producer of automotive steel, shows off a series of advanced steel grades and processes in Livonia, MI, that it hopes will stop the incursion in its tracks.
“The goal is not to lose one pound to alternative materials,” says Greg Ludkovsky, vice president-Global Research and Development, ArcelorMittal.
Ludkovsky outlines a near-term product strategy that he says can chop the weight of a typical C-segment car 14%, equivalent to 125.7 lbs. (57 kg) and major body-in-white structural parts 20%, or 77 lbs. (35 kg), without adding cost.
This product lineup, dubbed S-in motion, features new steel grades that currently are available for automotive production or soon will be. ArcelorMittal began introducing it to global auto makers in Europe late last year.
Many of these advanced grades likely will show up in new vehicles being developed now and going into production in about 2016, but some could be adopted immediately for some applications as part of a running change, Ludkovsky says.
However, the steel maker now is developing next-generation “breakthrough products” that will be equivalent to aluminum in weight and provide an additional savings of 64 lbs. (29 kg) in a typical C-segment car, Ludkovsky says.
He declines to give specifics about these next-generation steels, but says they will feature even higher strength and better formability and should be available to auto makers in the next several years.
If these new steel alloys and body structures are as competitive as the steel maker says, it could have a huge impact on the way future vehicles are designed and built — and burst the current bubble expanding for producers of aluminum, magnesium, carbon fiber and other lightweight materials.
“We do not intend to give an inch to them,” Ludkovsky says of alternative-materials competitors.