Steel’s Future in North American Light Vehicles Solid

by
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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