LONDON (Reuters) -- New high-tech products mean steel is now winning battles in a long war to defend its share of the auto market against lighter aluminum, as automakers have to shed weight to meet emissions standards.
But aluminum is set for further gains over the next decade as the United States slashes the weight of bulky pickup trucks and SUVs, while high-strength steel grades are likely to dominate in Europe.
Conventional steel will be the big loser in both areas.
The amount of aluminum -- which is more expensive but a third of the weight of conventional steel -- in cars and light trucks has shot up, tripling in North American and European cars over the past two to three decades.
Steel, long dominant in the industry, has been fighting back and has scored a string of successes as many top automakers opt for new grades of high strength steel over aluminum to trim the weight of new models.
"The steel industry has been on the march with this over the last seven to eight years and it's really catching on now," said Dick Schultz, managing director of consultants Ducker Worldwide in Michigan and an expert on materials used in autos.
The world's third-biggest automaker, Volkswagen AG, used thinner sheets of the material, which is up to six times as strong as conventional steel, to help reduce the weight of its latest Golf model by about 100 kg (220 lb).
Ford Motor Co. opted for high strength steels, including an alloy using boron, for more than half of the Fiesta's body structure while Nissan Motor Corp. plans to deploy a new ultra-strong steel this year across its lineup of models to cut at least 15 kg (33 lb) of weight from each vehicle.
The use of advanced high strength steel in North America nearly doubled between 2005 and 2009 to 150 lb (68 kg) per vehicle and is due to more than double again to 365 lbs (166 kg) by 2025, according to Ducker.
But the gains are cannibalizing conventional steel's market share, which is due to shrink further in coming years.
"Our customers are rooting for steel to win this competition because of our cost structure," said Jody Shaw, director of technical marketing and Product Research at United States Steel Corp.
"If they have to go to aluminum they will, but they would love to have a steel solution," added Shaw, also chairman of automotive group of the World Steel Association.