Steel’s Future in North American Light Vehicles Solid

John K. Catterall,
Vice President, Automotive Program
American Iron and Steel Institute

Who is forecasting the demise of steel in North American Light Vehicles? Certainly not the Aluminum Association that published a report in August predicting a dominant use of steel versus any other material in vehicles all the way out to 2030. The report forecasts steel content as 52% of total vehicle weight of an average North American light vehicle by 2022 and 47% in the year 2030. Iron is forecast at a constant 8% by total vehicle weight leading to the total ferrous metal content of 55% in 2030. The study also forecasts an aluminum content of 15% by 2030, which is a fraction of steel. There must be some caution however in relying on the numbers from the study as previous studies commissioned by the Aluminum Association have over predicted the use of aluminum compared to what actually occurred in production vehicles – 1.5 percentage points, which is strangely the amount by which the steel content has typically been under predicted. This is no small issue because it represents an additional 55 lbs. of steel content in 2030 – a total steel content of 1,790 lbs. per vehicle which is a major contributor to the future mobility landscape.

The data clearly shows that steel and ferrous materials have a very bright future in North American light vehicles and steel continues to offer a cost-effective means to construct lightweight vehicles in the upcoming years. This future will include electric and autonomous vehicles and was considered in the August 2020 report. The reduction in the steel content by total vehicle weight can also be explained by the fact that OEMs continue to lightweight existing steel dominant structures using advanced steels such as 3rd Gen Advanced High-Strength Steel(AHSS), this represents the majority of steel content by weight reduction over the last decade. Using a conservative 10% mass reduction achieved by steel designs over that period represents a 5% drop in steel content at the full vehicle level. The mass reductions achieved by steel have removed  mass to allow OEMs to introduce fuel saving measures such as stop/start, add sensors for crash avoidance (beginning of autonomous vehicles) and increase their option content to gain profitability. Currently steel is the only material actively lightweighting itself, which does not help some of the numbers that get tracked but it is the right thing to do for the industry and the environment.

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Steel is the Sustainability Story We Need to Discuss

If you’ve been paying attention to how automotive companies talk about sustainability, you have likely noticed an uptick in the chatter around what has become a ubiquitous subject in the automotive industry.

More and more, automotive companies are making certain choices based around sustainability because it’s good for the planet and good for their bottom line.

Take Ford Motor Company and General Motors, for instance. Both have signed on with MIGreenPower, which will help them procure wind energy through the program. This is designed specifically for Michigan corporations who want access to more renewable energy, and it helps the automakers take one more step toward their sustainability goals.

It makes sense, then, that steel companies are also working in tandem to make their products more sustainable. It’s a trend that shows no signs of going away any time soon, and, as we’ve already mentioned, can be a boon to the bottom line.

Furthermore, steel generates the lowest amount of production phase greenhouse gas emissions compared to alternative materials, making it an environmentally sound choice for automakers.

According to a recent study by the Steel Recycling Institute, domestically produced aluminum results in four to five times greater greenhouse gas emissions than steel by weight. Imported aluminum is eight to nine times greater.

There’s also a limit to the types of new products that can be produced from aluminum recycled at the end of its useful life. Aluminum is limited in which grades can be recycled to other grades. Aluminum cans are typically only recycled into other aluminum cans. If you want to alter the grade, you will reduce the quality of the aluminum, thus rendering it less useful. 

Steel, on the other hand, can be recycled into a wider variety of grades that can be used to lightweight vehicles with similar weight savings as aluminum, while retaining the proper grade needed to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy and safety requirements. Furthermore, more steel by weight is recycled than aluminum, plastics and paper combined, making it one of the most recycled materials by percentage.

“The resulting difference in fuel economy over the lifetime of the vehicle can’t make up for the difference in material production, energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions,” said Keith Lindemulder, environmental business development, Nucor. “The lighter footprint steel has over aluminum makes steel the clear choice over the entire lifecycle of the automobile.”

Nucor is a company committed to acting as sustainably because that’s what its customers demand.

Taking care of the customer is literally written in Nucor’s mission statement, which means Nucor maintains a commitment to ensure the materials the customer puts into vehicles match their goals, both from a sustainability perspective and quality perspective.

“Just like a car or truck isn’t made from just one material, there is more than one way to lower the environmental impact and improve the sustainability of the vehicle,” said Lindemulder. “We work closely with our customers to develop new and innovative products that match their environmental commitment.”

Nucor also sees the value in sustainable steel for the company, not just its customers. And the pledge to act more conscious of the world around them leads to actions that prove they are walking the talk.

For Nucor, it starts with energy conservation.

From upgrading to LED lighting in their production facilities, to air compressor upkeep, focusing on energy efficiency is good for the bottom line. But it also helps to shift the narrative that making steel is a dirty business.

Quite the opposite, actually, and Nucor’s work in the energy conservation space proves it.

Their facility in Lathrop, California, for instance, pulls some of its power from solar, making it partly energy-independent. The power pulled from the solar array gets sold back to the grid, and Nucor uses the electricity it needs to power the manufacturing plant and administrative offices. The rest gets distributed to local consumers. Nucor is also implementing similar systems at some of their other mills, as part of its company-wide focus on sustainability.

Solar is among the cleanest and most reliable sources of renewable energy, but it’s not the only green investment Nucor is making. The company has also invested in process water systems that recycle water by cascading between multiple production processes and water treatment processes. This reduces total water consumption because the same water is used multiple times throughout the steel-making process.

“We continue to invest in modern, energy efficient equipment to help drive our sustainability efforts,” said Lindemulder. “This ensures we improve our environmental performance while also driving the bottom line.”

Automotive companies will usually maintain business relationships with the most effective and efficient suppliers for their needs, and it is a bonus when those companies have similar ideas regarding sustainability.

Like we mentioned above, OEMs have committed to meeting sustainability goals. They are public and locked in, so there is incentive to reach their goals.

Let’s face it: it’s more positive for OEMs to announce they’ve surpassed goals than if they have to backtrack or claim to be at a standstill.

With that in mind, the steel industry is well positioned to become an important part of the sustainability discussion, and, in the process, help its automotive customers meet their goals.

The sign of a great partnership is when both parties pull their weight.

When it comes to steel makers and OEMs, a more sustainable future is definitely in the cards.

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Steel Continues to Drive Innovation and Staying Power

AK Steel’s Research and Innovation Center was built for collaboration with customers, and includes a state of the art pilot production operation for steelmaking and upstream research and development.

If you asked somebody at the dawn of the 20th century what the world would look like in the year 2020, the answers would have varied wildly.

Those who were making a living in a thriving steel industry may not have foreseen a day when new materials would claim to have benefits over steel.

But as we get ready to move into a new decade, we continue to know what has remained true for more than a hundred years:  innovation drives the steel industry, and there is not a more cost-effective, flexible or safe material than steel when it comes to manufacturing automobiles.

Such is the staying power of steel.

“Steel brings tremendous value to companies that make automobiles and automotive components,” said Scott Stevens, General Manager, Applications and Advanced Engineering in AK Steel’s Research and Innovation organization. “Steel’s inherent strength, overall performance, and value result in innovative solutions, which make it hard to beat.”

AK Steel was founded nearly 120 years ago in Middletown, Ohio, where one if its largest plants   operates today.  Headquartered in West Chester, Ohio, the company’s focus on innovation and proximity to customers, including those in the automotive industry in Detroit, continues to be a benefit for the business today. 

AK Steel is the only North American producer of carbon, stainless and electrical steels.  It remains focused on delighting customers with innovative steel products and processes that automotive companies may not have even dreamed of just a few years ago.

Employees at AK Steel’s Research and Innovation Center bring deep expertise in steelmaking to create new steel products to meet customers’ needs today and for the future. 

“If a customer is looking for outstanding products, or a new product to meet their needs, we work collaboratively with them to deliver innovative solutions, said Stevens. “We engage constantly with OEM engineers who design vehicles to ensure they get what they need, because that is the foundation of our business.”

Innovation is a key driver to the steel industry.  In fact, today 75% of the 3,500 steel grades currently in use around the world did not even exist 20 years ago.

Not only do automotive OEMs plan their future products years in advance.  They also set performance targets very early on, in the design stage. This is where steel companies like AK Steel are invaluable to their automotive partners.

“We work daily with our customers to deliver high performance, cost effective solutions that also help them achieve their overall performance, safety and fuel efficiency standards,” said Stevens.   

Steel continues to offer the widest range of strength and formability compared to other competing materials, which gives it significant advantages in product applications and manufacturing.   

As automotive performance, fuel economy and safety regulations increase, AK Steel continues to provide new solutions.  That is why they have developed products like 3rd Generation Advanced High Strength Steels (AHSS) NEXMET® 1000 & 1200, and DI-MAX® HF-10X electrical steel. NEXMET® AHSS is designed to help in automotive lightweighting applications, while DI-MAX® HF-10X allows the production of more efficient motors for hybrid/electric vehicles.

Specifically, the NEXMET® family of products offer higher strength, greater ductility, and improved formability solutions for structural and exterior automotive body lightweighting needs.  DI-MAX® HF-10X is a non-oriented electrical steel designed for use in high speed motors, traction motors, and other rotating equipment.

Steel remains a product of choice with OEMs, and there is no sign of that stopping any time soon.

“When you consider safety, cost, and overall performance, which includes enhanced manufacturability that allows the efficient production of complex automotive parts, steel continues to provide the best overall value,” says Stevens.  “At AK Steel, we are not only delivering solutions for vehicles built today, but also working years in advance to deliver new product and process innovation to meet our customers’ future needs.”  

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Algoma Steel Shows Off Science Behind the Steel to Inspire Future STEMers

As businesses continue to become more modernized and focus on a growth mindset, the demand for people who can fill jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is only expected to increase.

This means companies will need to give serious thought to understanding how they can meet the challenges of a future that will need employees who are well-versed in STEM fields.

Algoma Steel, a member of the Steel Market Development Institute, is one of those companies putting down stakes to understand how they can reach youth and show them different paths to success. After all, STEM careers represent some of the largest growth industries and highest salaries in Canada (where Algoma is located), so it makes sense for both parties to think about a STEM future.

Last month, Algoma participated in the fifth annual Sault Ste. Marie Science Festival. This week-long, one-of-a-kind event offered opportunities to celebrate science in a fun, inclusive and engaging atmosphere. The festival highlighted science and technology by providing many different interactive activities for people of all ages to experience, and culminated in a Science Carnival on the Saturday for local children and their families to participate in.

As the largest employer in Sault Ste. Marie Algoma Steel wanted to make their presence known while giving attendees something fun to do  ensuring steel was front and center. Algoma’s exhibit, called “The Science of Steel,” was interactive in nature and featured a number of stations geared toward demonstrating steel isn’t just about beams and bridges.

One of the stations showcased the raw materials that go into steel to help visitors understand how those materials are added to the process flow.

Another station housed a computer game where users could choose the grade of steel they wanted to create, pick out the raw materials, put them through the manufacturing process, and see the end product. This game was designed by a few of Algoma Steel’s employees who were part of the company’s graduate engineer training program. They put their smarts to use to give the public a better understanding of the steel-making process.

There was also a station featuring different steel samples set under microscopes to give interested attendees a close-up view of steel, showing its microstructure, along with quality test samples they could touch and feel.

But the pièce de résistance was SMDI’s virtual reality journey through a futuristic cityscape that first appeared at the North American International Auto Show this past January in Detroit. 

Those who took the three-minute ride saw the key components of a steel-bodied autonomous vehicle, while learning how the advancement of high-strength steel can address the potential challenges of autonomous transportation.

“The main purpose of participating in the event was to educate people on the science behind the steel,” said Natalie Plastino, communications specialist at Algoma Steel. “But we also want to encourage younger people to consider a career in the steel industry, and we think this is a good first step.”

Plastino added, “The line of visitors waiting to use the virtual reality experience grew longer as the day went on. Children of all ages and adults alike didn’t mind the wait. Rather, they were eager to find out what all of the excitement was about.”

The festival is a collaborative venture between ten Sault Ste. Marie organizations and Science North, a popular educational resource for children and adults across the province of Ontario. The non-profit maintains two of the largest science centers in Canada and views events like the Sault Ste. Marie science festival as a great way to put science in front of kids who might have an interest in this field.

“The Sault Ste. Marie Science Festival gives the next generation of scientists and engineers an opportunity to figure out what’s interesting to them,” said Lora Clausen, senior scientist, Northern Initiatives at Science North and Sault Ste. Marie Science Festival Chair. “With Algoma Steel’s presence and ‘Science of Steel’ exhibit on display, there is an emphasis on materials science, which is a burgeoning, albeit, under-the-radar discipline with a strong future.”

With other new technology industries attracting significant amounts of talent, recruitment can be a tough hill to climb for the steel industry. But, companies like Algoma Steel are making strides to keep the talent pipeline full and show the future workforce this can be a viable industry to work in.

“Algoma is an entrepreneurial company with a 118-year history, so the steel industry obviously has staying power,” said Plastino. “While steel might not seem as appealing as automotive engineering at first glance, there is more that goes into it than just mining and smelting.  We believe a career in steel can be just as fulfilling as any other STEM-related industry.”

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SMDI Readies for Great Designs in Steel 2019

On May 15, we will raise the curtain on the 2019 edition of Great Designs in Steel, the Steel Market Development Institute’s annual showcase event where we bring together automotive OEMs, steel companies and suppliers from around the world to see the newest offerings in steel technology and give attendees the opportunity to network with the very best this industry has to offer.

What started as a small event attended by a few hundred people, created for the sole purpose of releasing the results of a WorldAutoSteel lightweighting project, has turned into a destination event that contains multiple tracks and is attended by more than 1,300 people from around the globe.

We hear from attendees every year that they would gladly pay money to attend this free event, which leads us to believe we must be doing something right if companies are willing to put some of their budget toward sending their engineers to this event to reap the benefits.  (Don’t worry, GDIS will always be free to attend.)

This year’s event will include 25 state-of-the-art displays and more than 30 technical presentations that will provide valuable insight on the latest trends and applications in new cars and trucks from engineering, design, technology and academic leaders. The all-day, multi-track program will feature industry discussions that focus on advanced high-strength steels, automotive design, and manufacturing technologies. All the while, the focus will remain centered on the performance, value and sustainability benefits of steel in automotive applications.

Kicking off the event this year will be a keynote presentation by Antonio Vittorini of General Motors. Antonio is GM’s director and global BOM leader, body structures. He’ll be followed by Kirk Reich, president and COO of AK Steel. Each of them will have interesting insight into this industry to share with the audience.

Returning to serve as MC for this year’s edition of GDIS will be Andrew Humphrey from WDIV-TV in Detroit. Some of you may know Andrew’s face as the local weatherman. But when he’s not keeping us updated on impending weather, he is also the host of Tech Time, a regular segment that focuses on science and technology. With his background in the sciences, Andrew has been the perfect host for the past two years, and we are excited to follow along with all of the attendees again this year.

As I said, this is a multi-track event. Three, to be exact.

In addition to our partner companies, like AK Steel, Nucor Corporation and ArcelorMittal, presenting, we have speakers talking about everything from what the newest grades of steel can deliver, to how to stamp steel into required shapes, to new advancements in laser cutting. And, for a lot of our attendees, this is the first time they will hear this information, which gives them added incentive to attend the event.

As our event has grown in popularity, so, too, have the speaking opportunities. We receive dozens of abstracts each year, then whittle them down until we have a broad range of topics that give our audience the best information possible. The fact that we have to turn away speakers leads us to believe this is a sought-after opportunity.

It’s my belief that if you really want to get the most out of a conference, you should serve as a presenter or speaker. If you share what you know, you’re more likely to be approached by other people and exchange information with them. That is how you can measure, for lack of a better term, the value of an event. Not to mention that for this event specifically, you can earn face time with your target audience, which is never a bad thing.

If you work in the steel industry, you know it’s always shifting and evolving. Events like Great Designs in Steel allow us to keep our finger on the pulse of the industry and gain a better sense of the trends that are going to shape the next few years. When we set out to create this event, we couldn’t have imagined how large and influential it was going to become. But we embrace the expectations that our attendees have come to bestow upon us over many successful years.

If you haven’t registered to attend, there is still time. Registration closes on May 10. To register, head on over to and sign up.

This event is truly a labor of love for my team and we are excited to welcome you this year. We hope you walk away with a greater understanding of the issues that will affect your day-to-day work in the coming months and years, as well as gain an appreciation for what is being done by your colleagues.

We look forward to seeing you on May 15!

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Four Ways Steel Will Play A Role in Future Mobility

BIW_No BPillar

Whether we are ready or not, the automotive industry, as it looks today, is going to look vastly different in a decade or two.

Even if the promise of a fully autonomous future never pans out, we are guaranteed to see more and more of our vehicles with components of autonomy designed to make driving easier.

We’re already seeing vehicles sold to the public that assist the driver with parallel parking and warn us or take corrective action if we start to veer into another lane.

The more optimistic among us can even envision a future where we gather around the other occupants in the car, living room style, while the vehicle automatically drives us to our destination. When we hear of autonomous vehicles, this is, perhaps, the image that most often comes to mind.

And with that imagery comes ideas of space-age materials that make our cars lighter and more pleasing to the eye. But no matter how futuristic our methods of transportation become, steel will always have a place in this version of the future.

If you don’t believe us, look no further than consumer preferences.

According to a study commissioned last year by the Steel Market Development Institute, the new study finds Americans in the market for a new vehicle continue to trust and prefer steel as the automotive material of choice.

A majority of customers surveyed believe steel to be preferable to aluminum when it comes to durability, strength, and safety.

As a result, consumers still strongly prefer key components of a vehicle, such as the frame, doors, bed, fender and bumpers, to be made of steel. More than 50 percent of all consumers perceive steel as the most important material in a vehicle’s frame or body structure.

As we think about future mobility and how it’s going to impact our world, we remain confident steel will always have a place.

With that in mind, here are four ways steel will play a significant role in future mobility.


Sustainability is going to weigh heavily on the minds of future generations when they decide which vehicle they want to lease, buy, share or rent.

Whereas we are just starting to understand the effect vehicles on the road today have on our environment, we are only going to become more knowledgeable about our impact so that future manufacturing choices lead to a smaller footprint.

The fact remains that steel is the most environmentally friendly material you can build into a car.

For every kilogram of steel produced, 1.9 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions are emitted.

Compared to aluminum, which produces 8.9 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram, steel is far and away the better option, but sustainability of steel goes beyond emissions.

The ability to recycle steel, both at the beginning and end of production, gives it a massive advantage over other materials.

Steel can be disassembled and shredded when its automotive usefulness is complete and turned into almost any grade of steel imaginable, with minimal alloying. What was once a piece of a car can be turned into everything from pipes and bridges, to panels for dishwashers and refrigerators, giving steel life beyond the automobile.

Aluminum recycling is a trickier beast to slay because it needs to be sorted into like alloys or grades.

For instance, aluminum cans can be recycled into…aluminum cans, but typically not automotive sheet metal.  It takes seven times more energy, as well, to take aluminum ore product and turn it into aluminum metal than it does to turn iron ore into an iron product.


In a perfectly functional autonomous world, there will be no crashes because all of the cars on the road will communicate with each other.

As we all know, there is no such thing as perfect.

The cars of tomorrow are going to get dinged up and dented because we are still a long way from a fully autonomous future. So, automakers and vehicle owners – especially fleets – need to invest in material that can withstand regular contact, while keeping the cost down.

Car-sharing services like Maven and Zipcar are going to become more of the norm, but they will still be driven by humans. As the vehicles spend more time on the road, the fleet owners will want to ensure, to the best of their ability, that the vehicles spend more time on the road and less time in the shop getting repaired.

Steel provides the best durability option to ensure there is as little downtime as possible. These savings, which can be realized in the form of lower insurance costs and less money spent on repair, can be passed on to the consumer.

Whether or not that happens is up for debate, but steel gives manufacturers the durability they desire when choosing the ideal material for their products.


If premonitions about our self-driving future come to fruition, the cars of the future will act more like living rooms on wheels than the current models we know and love today.

When (if) this happens, car designers will have to make major structural changes to the vehicles.

Most experts think the center pillar will be removed to improve access in and out of the vehicle as well as accommodate a family, or small group, that wants to sit comfortably and play board games while their car whisks them away to their intended destination.

Thanks to steel, designers can give occupants the same peace-of-mind they would get in a car with the center pillar. Steel’s strength and formability allow for more flexibility in designing a door ring with no center pillar, without compromising occupant protection.

On top of that, steel’s superior acoustic performance to aluminum gives passengers a quieter cabin, which results in a more pleasurable ride experience when they want to hear what the person across from them is saying.


If you think certain vehicles have a larger blind spot, you are not imagining things.

Windshield pillars are critical to ensuring occupant safety in the event of a rollover. However, the size of the pillar section can also block the driver’s field of vision and prevent him from seeing oncoming vehicles or pedestrians.  These competing design objectives can be readily addressed with advanced high-strength steel that can provide adequate strength with slimmer windshield pillar sections

Some automakers have already demonstrated the ability to execute thinner windshield pillars to allow more visibility, as we saw a few years ago with the Acura NSX.

This boost in visibility would not have been possible with any other material. Engineers took advantage of steel’s strength and formability to design slimmer yet complex geometries for the windshield pillar and roof side rails as one continuous strong piece.

Advanced high-strength steel, which is used in many vehicles today, can make the car body structure stronger, while lightening the weight of the vehicle at an affordable cost.

We also see the advantage of strong and thin when it comes to battery packs in cars with electrification.

Since advanced high-strength steel applications can be designed more efficiently than, say, with aluminum, a battery pack structural enclosure made of steel can house more batteries and, thus, allow the car to go farther on a single charge than if the battery casing was made out of aluminum.

When you design with aluminum, the part section size grows, which means less space for the batteries.


While aluminum and carbon fiber get the buzz associated with the future of transportation, it’s advanced high-strength steel that provides the most practical solutions to how we will travel on the roads in the coming decades, and it will remain that way for some time.

Until something more cost-effective and sustainable comes along, steel gives us the best path forward to a world that embraces future mobility.

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Steel Market Development Institute Honors Three Automotive Steel Innovators

men and women of steel 2019

The individuals who were recently named the Steel Market Development Institute’s (SMDI) 2019 Men and Women of Steel may not be superheroes. However, they do great things when it comes to promoting the positive impact of steel in their respective positions.

For the fifth consecutive year, SMDI is honoring individuals for their innovative uses and applications of steel at work, as well as in the community.

The Industry Innovator award honors automotive designers or engineers who showcase superior capability and innovation in the application of advanced high-strength steel.

The Community Hero award recognizes governmental and community leaders who showcase both innovation and sustainability through the use of advanced high-strength steel.

New for 2019 is the Manufacturing Leader recognition. This award recognizes an individual who implements steel for intended automotive applications and collaborates with the industry to overcome identified challenges.

These three winners were honored last week at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Detroit during the North American International Auto Show, in front of an audience of their colleagues and peers as we celebrated their accomplishments and hard work.

Joe Riggsby

Acura RDX Body Development Leader, Honda R&D Americas, Inc.

Men and Women of Steel Industry Innovator Award

joe riggsbyGrowing up in the Midwest in Franklin, Ohio, Joe Riggsby was right in the thick of the automotive industry throughout his formative years, so it’s not much of a surprise that he always had in mind a career in automotive.

“From an early age, I loved taking things apart and putting them back together,” he says. “When it came time to go to college, I wanted to do something that would allow me to combine my love of designing and automotive.”

After graduating from Ohio Northern University, Riggsby went to work for Honda and hasn’t looked back since.

In 17 years of work with the company, he has contributed to the development of multiple models, including the 2006 Honda Civic trunk design, the 2008 Honda Pilot and the 2010 Acura ZDX tailgate system.

But his greatest accomplishment to date is the work he and his team completed on the all-new 2019 Acura RDX, and it’s that work for which he is being honored by SMDI.

As the body development leader, Riggsby led a team of global engineers to bring the world’s first ultra-high strength steel, inner and outer front door ring system.

Even though Riggsby can suggest any type of material for a project he’s working on, steel is often top-of-mind when it comes to deciding how he’s going to move forward.

“I usually start with steel because there are still ways to optimize and improve, which is what we did on the new Acura RDX,” he says. “At the end of the day, we are looking for the option that gives the customer the best value but achieves all of our requirements.

In an example of typical Midwest humility, Riggsby doesn’t want to take all of the credit for his work on the Acura RDX.

“I enjoy designing and working on solutions that impact society as a whole,” he adds. “Even though I’m the one receiving the award, there is no way I could have done this without my team.”


Carla Bailo

President and CEO, Center for Automotive Research

Men and Women of Steel Community Hero Award

carla bailoWhen Carla Bailo speaks to the young women she mentors, they are often surprised to hear her talk about the steel industry.

To them, steel isn’t “cool” in the same way that lightweighting and additive manufacturing is. But the way Carla views this conundrum, it’s all about design optimization.

“You use the best material, for the best cost, to meet the customer’s expectation and deliver the product performances you need,” says Bailo.

As more and more vehicles will soon be autonomous and electrified, design optimization will become even more vital, as will recyclability and reusability – two areas where steel can play a critical role.

Further, steel beats out the competition when it comes to total carbon footprint during the manufacturing process, which is a topic that is weighing heavily on everyone’s mind these days.

“You really need to look at the whole product, not just what’s coming out of the tailpipe,” she adds. “This is where the steel industry needs to think about total production because it gives them an edge, as steel is not a petroleum-based product.”

It’s this type of thinking that suits Carla well, as she finds herself leading a non-profit thinktank at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

Before CAR, she was The Ohio State University’s assistant vice president for mobility research and business development, where she was able to combine her love of industry with academia. It also fulfilled a desire to work with students and be on the cutting edge of research.

“I have loved the automotive industry since I was young,” says Carla. “My father was a tool and die guy, as was his father before him. My grandmother was a Rosie the Riveter.”

Carla wants to instill this same level of excitement in young women who might have thought about engineering as a career, but perhaps don’t have the historical knowledge she obtained growing up in a home where steel and automotive were a constant topic of conversation.

“I try to show that the world as they know it would not exist without the work of engineers,” she adds. “Everything from the clothes you wear to the chairs you sit on were designed by an engineer.”

Even, says Carla, the notebooks you write in.

“That steel spiral in your notebook? That was designed by an engineer.”


Doneen McDowell

Manufacturing Executive Director, General Motors

Men and Women of Steel Manufacturing Leader Award

doneen mcdowellThere is a vein of steel that runs through Doneen McDowell’s family tree, and it wouldn’t be crazy to say she owes her very existence to steel.

In the early 1900s, her grandfathers immigrated to America from Croatia and Italy, respectively, and went to work for Midland Steel (now a part of Crucible Industries) outside of Pittsburgh.

With more than 90 years of experience between the two of them, they understood the value of hard work and showing up every day, which is what they bestowed on their children and grandchildren while regaling them with steel mill stories at family meals.

“I have such pride in what my grandfathers did for us, clocking in at the mill every day without complaint,” says McDowell. “

Growing up, McDowell had little interest in the automotive industry. But her father, ever the forward-thinker, encouraged her to focus on a STEM education because he understood the value it would bring Doneen in her chosen career. This guidance led her to her first job out of Youngstown St., working for EDS within General Motors.

“There were two women in the engineering curriculum while in college for my undergrad,” says McDowell. “That experience taught me that I could hang with anyone in a largely male-dominated field, which has served me well over the course of my career.”

McDowell’s career spans a number of GM plants and facilities, as well as different disciplines within the GM manufacturing sphere, including assembly, stamping, and powertrain. Her experience has led her to now, where she leads the engine and component manufacturing within GM North America across 10 sites.

“The vehicles we build are the medium by which we deliver new technology to our customers,” says McDowell. “Thus, steel plays an important role in ensuring our customers stay protected.”

This award, explains McDowell, is very much humbling for her as, like the other award winners, she didn’t step into the profession to earn accolades. She loves the work she does every day and looks at it as an extension of the commitment her grandfathers had to their work.

“This award is a great opportunity to recognize those who paved the way for all of us today,” says McDowell. “I take such pride in what my ancestors did around the turn of the century, and I have so much respect for the generations who came before us who made it possible.”

It has allowed her to truly understand the value steel has played in her life, and gives her the opportunity to step into their shoes, if not the same way they did.

McDowell might not be heading off to the mill in the wee hours, lunch pail in hand, but she’s putting in a good, honest day’s work, and that’s something she can pass on to her kids.

These three automotive industry thought leaders are providing great examples of the ongoing innovation with new, higher-strength steels currently taking place in the automotive industry. For more information, visit

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Virtual Reality Experience at NAIAS Offers Glimpse at Steel’s Role in Future Autonomous Vehicles

smdi naias19_covers_fb (3)

Future Mobility will be front and center at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and the Cobo Center show floor won’t be the only place for attendees to see vehicles of the future. Just off the main exhibit floor on the Cobo concourse, attendees will have a chance to experience first-hand what autonomous vehicles may look and feel like in the near future through the Steel Market Development Institute’s (SMDI) Virtual Reality Experience.

The technology making it possible for autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles to find their way is only part of the story. According to World Auto Steel and the “Future Generation Passenger Compartment-Validation” presentation from Great Designs in Steel Presentation, steel is the material of choice for automotive manufacturers for a number of reasons, especially for self-driving cars and trucks. The fact is, as the popularity of autonomous vehicles grows, performance, value and occupant protection will become even more critical. Steel will play a leading role in all those aspects.

For one, the use of advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) gives engineers many options in terms of safety, convenience, occupant comfort and cost savings. You’ll see AHSS provides exceptional strength so the center, or B-pillar, of a vehicle can be removed. This makes it a lot easier for occupants to enter and exit a vehicle.

Once they’re inside, advanced high-strength steel provides such a strong and stable structure, passengers will find their ride quieter and a lot more comfortable because noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) is greatly minimized. Steel will also provide automotive engineers an easy way to design for additional safety! According to World Auto Steel and ArcelorMittal, the technology we mentioned at the start, like sensors and batteries, is also better protected by steel’s strength and, because AHSS is lighter and thinner, there’s more room for additional batteries – which means traveling further on a charge. The lighter weight also leads to improved fuel economy, according to SSAB.

Your Virtual Reality Experience will also show you how steel is beneficial for the environment since it’s the most recycled material in the world and, compared with competitive materials, has the lowest emissions during production, according to the Steel Recycling Institute and World Steel Association.

In all, SMDI’s Virtual Reality Experience will let you see first-hand the self-driving vehicles of the future and why steel will make them stronger, safer, more comfortable and more efficient, while protecting the world where we’ll be driving in them.

Be sure to follow @DriveUsingSteel on Twitter for all the breaking news from the NAIAS show floor. What vehicles are you most excited to see? Tell us in the comments below.

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A Year in Review: Notable Steel-Intensive Vehicles of 2018


2019 Jeep Cherokee

This year, a survey published by the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) revealed that consumers trust and prefer steel as the material of choice for their new car, truck or SUV. It’s a huge reason why advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) and ultra-high-strength steel (UHSS) played a starring role in the new vehicle introductions of 2018.

More than 65 steel-intensive vehicles debuted at auto shows and technology events across the United States this year – covering the spectrum from economy coupes and luxury SUVs to refined sedans and off-road icons.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

The 2019 Cherokee melds iconic design with modern performance, thanks to generous use of AHSS and UHSS throughout the redesigned SUV. Roughly two-thirds of the Cherokee’s body is made from high-strength steels, delivering a robust body structure maximizing crash protection while optimizing vehicle dynamics and weight.

2020 Toyota Corolla

The 2020 Corolla increased its torsional rigidity – how much the car’s body flexes while driving – by 60 percent compared to previous models. Thanks to increased UHSS use, the Corolla’s new body not only looks great and contributes to aerodynamic efficiency, but it also improves ride quality and enhances driver and passenger safety.

2019 Subaru Forester

Ninety-seven percent of the Foresters built over the past decade are still on the road. It’s a testament to the compact SUV’s durability, performance and safety, which received yet another upgrade for 2019 with extensive use of high-strength steel throughout the Forester’s body. These strong and light steels enhance efficiency, crash safety and reduce road noise for years to come.

2019 Kia Forte

The body of this 2019 North American Car of the Year nominee is made up of 54 percent advanced high-strength steel. The unrivaled strength, weight and formability of AHSS allowed the Forte’s designers to provide a more spacious interior and eye-catching exterior design without sacrificing any of the car’s reputation for safety.

2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

The iconic “G-Wagen” stayed true to its roots in its 2019 redesign. With improved efficiency and performance, it lost a total of 375-pounds as a result of upgrades to AHSS and UHSS throughout the SUV’s frame and body. For instance, the ladder frame on the G-Class is both stronger and lighter than before.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta

Volkswagen takes full advantage of the most modern steels, with 86 percent of the Jetta’s body made up of either UHSS or AHSS. Steel’s formability also plays a role in the new design elements which set this Jetta apart, including a distinctive character line running through the door handles.

2019 Ram 1500

The Ram 1500 is a finalist for North American Truck of the Year, which isn’t surprising for a truck built on a 98 percent high-strength steel frame. The new Ram relies on steel to deliver strength, durability and capability, including up to 12,750 pounds of towing capacity and 2,300 pounds of payload.

2019 Acura RDX

The Acura RDX luxury crossover SUV is a finalist for North American Utility Vehicle of the Year. Its designers turned to high-strength steels for more than half its reengineered body, delivering body rigidity, handling precision and cabin quietness while increasing both cabin comfort and cargo space.

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

The 2019 Santa Fe is Hyundai’s most advanced SUV ever. Two-thirds of its body is high-strength steel, increasing strength while reducing weight. Steel’s strength and formability contributed to the Santa Fe’s eye-catching redesign, while giving designers the ability to offer a giant panoramic sunroof opening the cabin to the world around it.

2019 Chevrolet Silverado

Along with its fellow finalists for 2019 North American Truck of the Year, the 2019 Chevy Silverado depends on high-strength steel to deliver the performance and reliability its owner’s demand. The new Silverado’s fully-boxed steel frame is 88 pounds lighter than its predecessor, while becoming more rigid at the same time. In total, 80 percent of the Silverado’s frame is now made from high-strength steel, helping deliver on its promise of being “the most dependable, longest-lasting full-sized pickups on the road.”


In addition to the direct benefits of high-strength steel in these remarkable vehicles, it’s also important to recognize how steel’s lightweighting capabilities help designers and engineers. It gives them the freedom to invest in active safety technologies, powertrain performance, high-tech infotainment systems and other advancements while still reducing vehicle weight in the service of fuel efficiency and emissions standards. This is why consumers prefer steel, and why automakers continue to make it the material of choice for the best cars, trucks and SUVs.

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The Advantages of Steel: A Consumer Vehicle Shopping Guide


When shopping for a new car, truck or SUV, the ultimate goal is usually the best combination of price, safety, performance and value to meet your needs. This is a perfect time to understand the significant role high-strength steel plays in today’s vehicles.

If you’re already a savvy shopper who looks for high-strength steel on the dealership floor, you’re not alone. There’s a reason more than half the consumers surveyed by an independent research firm said steel was the most important material in their vehicle’s frame or body structure. And 43 percent said they would be less likely to buy or lease a vehicle from automakers who replaced steel with aluminum. There’s simply no other automotive material delivering value to consumers like today’s modern high-strength steels.

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, here are a few tips for being a steel-savvy shopper on the showroom floor:


Safety matters above all else. It’s the most important quality today’s consumers look for in a car, truck, crossover or SUV. It’s why automakers are quickly transitioning from traditional steel grades to advanced high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels, to cocoon drivers and passengers in unprecedented strength and safety.

When looking at safety, it’s important to ask questions about what kind of steel forms the “skeleton” of the vehicle you’re considering. Has the automaker used the most modern and strong steel grades in features such as the pillars, which must withstand the vehicle’s weight in a rollover, or the door beams bearing the brunt of a T-bone collision? In an accident, what’s between you and potential harm?


In addition to safety, the strength of today’s modern steels allows automotive designers to create roomier vehicles with more flexibility to provide better visibility for both drivers and passengers. When comparing new vehicles, pay attention to the strategic use of steel, which allows for bigger windows, smaller pillars, more spacious cabins and less obstructed sightlines.

This is one of the areas where alternative materials, such as aluminum, fall short. Designers have to use more aluminum to meet the strength of advanced high-strength steels, meaning they “bulk up” areas where designers who work with the latest steels can create slimmer designs without sacrificing strength or protection.


Environmental Impact

For drivers who care about their environmental footprint, there are numerous options to consider – and many of those go beyond fuel economy. Powertrains, vehicle size and other various factors can make an impact. When it comes to vehicle materials, the most environmentally friendly option is steel. Today’s higher strength steels mean vehicles need less steel to accomplish the same environmental goals by reducing the total volume used in a vehicle.

When it comes to recycling, nothing beats steel’s existing recycled content, its ability to be recycled repeatedly and indefinitely with no loss of performance, and the existing nationwide infrastructure ensuring every steel vehicle can and will be recycled.


The ideal scenario is a low cost of ownership, combining fuel efficiency and low repair costs with no expensive insurance requirements. If you’re purchasing a new vehicle, you want to be confident it will last a long time and ultimately retain its value as a trade-in.

If you’re looking for value, you should be shopping for a steel-intensive vehicle. Today’s advanced steels help provide unprecedented fuel efficiency through vehicle weight reduction without sacrificing safety. Virtually every auto body repair shop in the country can repair a steel vehicle with confidence. It’s not necessary to search for specialists to repair more expensive body materials, or to potentially pay higher insurance premiums to cover those repairs.

You can also trust strong and resilient steel vehicles to last longer on the road, perform to your demands and maintain value.

What criteria do you consider when shopping for a new vehicle? Let us know in the comments below.

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