Make New Steels, but Keep the Old – The Story of Steel’s Evolution

Did you know in the 1960s, there were only five types of automotive steel available and today there are more than 200? Different steels provide options for automakers to choose from to get the right job in your car done!  It also helps automakers continue to meet the demanding safety and fuel economy challenges of today’s vehicles. While steel has been on the road since Henry Ford invented the Model T, it sure isn’t your grandfather’s steel anymore.

Ford Model T

What are the different types of steels and where are they applied in a vehicle?

Chevrolet Silverado Diagram

While there are many classifications of steel, here are some of the most common types you may have read about and how they’ve evolved throughout the years. Let’s take a trip down memory lane:

Where did steel start?

Mild Steel – Mild steel is widely produced and used, often serving as a baseline for comparing other materials. To compare, most automotive aluminum grades have strength levels similar to these grades. This type of steel helps make complex shapes, such as hoods, doors and fenders, etc. As an example, the 1965 Ford Mustang was made entirely of mild steel. While today’s vehicles still use some mild steel for a few parts, steel embraced new technologies in the 60s and began its journey to reinvention.

1965 Ford Mustang

What was steel’s next move? 

High-Strength Low-Alloy Steel (HSLA) – Stronger than mild steels, these were developed to help make passengers more safe. HSLA was typically used in various body structure, suspension and chassis parts, as well as wheels. In the 1970s, the Dodge Charger was one of the first production vehicles to use these steels. HSS still have applications today, such as the pickup box in the 2016 Chevrolet Silverado, which was unveiled at the Texas State Fair.

1970s and 1980s
Image source:  Top – Flickr / Bottom – Autoblog

Steel is looking good! Was that it, or is there even more?

Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS) and Ultra High-Strength Steels (UHSS)These newest steels are very strong and are used in the body structure, specifically in areas where exceptional strength is needed. Some examples include the A-pillars, B-pillars, rockers and rails. Today, AHSS and UHSS are the fastest growing automotive materials. Currently, the 2016 Honda Civic uses UHSS in the body shell to reduce mass while maintaining high performance.

Image source:  Top – Flickr / Bottom – Car and Driver

Where is steel going?

3rd Generation Steels – 3rd Generation Steels are our future. These steels are currently being developed to have the high strength of UHSS and the flexibility of mild steel. Some grades are already being introduced commercially! These grades will help automakers further reduce weight, and meet future safety and fuel economy standards, all while maintaining the excellent strength and high value expected from steel.

Steel timeline - Final


Although steel has been around forever, it continues to reinvent itself to better serve the vehicle and its passengers. Today’s steel grades each serve a unique purpose to ensure your vehicle will be built to be strong, durable and fuel efficient, all at the highest value.

So, now that you know all about steel, it’s quiz time! What steel is used in areas where exceptional strength is needed? Leave your answer in the comment section below!

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