Five Years Later – Consumers Still Prefer Steel

Five years ago, an announcement was made sparking a materials debate across the automotive industry. With one of the top-selling vehicles in the U.S. becoming aluminum intensive, we wanted to know what the everyday driver thought about materials used in their truck or SUV. So, back in 2013, we launched a survey to gauge awareness and preference for automotive materials among consumers.

In that first survey, 75% of consumers preferred steel and understood its high correlation to the safety of their vehicle. Consumers highly associated steel with strength and better protection for their family when directly compared to aluminum. Additionally, 50% of the total audience ranked type of material for their vehicle’s frame or body as an extremely important decision-making factor when choosing a truck or SUV to buy or lease. When consumers were informed automakers were replacing steel with aluminum, respondents weren’t very happy with the choice, with more than 47% declaring they had a negative reaction.

SMDI Consumer Survey Infographic_Social-02


Five years have passed since the initial survey and with consumers favoring trucks and SUVs again, as well as recent fuel economy debates, we decided it was time to see if their preferences have changed. In April 2018 we replicated the survey with the addition of sedan owners and intenders. What we learned is impressive! Ninety percent of consumers believe steel is stronger and more durable than aluminum, and advanced high-strength steel remains the preferred material for a vehicle’s frame for 92% of those surveyed.

Most important? Aluminum is a deal breaker with consumers. More than half of consumers claim replacing steel with aluminum will negatively impact their opinion of an automaker. And, if an automaker did replace steel with aluminum, more than 40% of those surveyed would be less likely to buy or lease from that manufacturer.

SMDI Consumer Survey Infographic_Social-05

In fact, steel plays a critical role in more than half of the top ten decision making criteria consumers noted when they are looking to buy or lease a new vehicle:

  1. Safety: Advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) and ultra high-strength steel (UHSS) give automakers exceptional high strength grades to efficiently design strong, rigid passenger compartments to prevent intrusion while minimizing blind spots for the driver. Additional grades provide a combination of high strength and energy absorption to help manage front- and rear-end collisions.
  2. Price: Steel-intensive body structures and closures offer the most cost-effective solutions to automakers thus translating to cost savings for consumers.
  3. Interior Roominess: The efficient design of the passenger compartment with steel allows for roomier interiors.
  4. Appealing Physical Design: Steel’s formability allows designers options for more shape in vehicles as compared with aluminum alloys.
  5. Vehicle Test Result Reviews: Steel’s properties contribute to ride and handling and durability which results in overall exceptional vehicle performance.
  6. Fuel Efficiency: Steel’s high strength, and thus lightweighting contribution to vehicles, increases fuel economy.

Five model years, a changing automotive landscape, development of autonomous vehicles and so much more all took place between surveys and yet consumer preferences for vehicle materials are unchanged. As you look to purchase or lease a new vehicle, don’t forget about the high value steel provides. Tell us in the comments below: what do you consider when looking for a new car, truck or SUV?

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2 Responses to Five Years Later – Consumers Still Prefer Steel

  1. Steel Market Development Institute says:

    Hi Sonia! What kind of details are you looking for? We will be happy to answer your questions!

  2. sonia says:

    I need details

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