Aluminum giant Novelis says it has developed a new grade of weight-saving aluminum sheet designed to replace steel in bumpers, doors and other safety-critical areas of vehicle bodies.
Novelis says its Advanz 7000 series is two to three times stronger than the aluminum sheet currently in high-volume production.
The company, whose largest automotive customers are Jaguar Land Rover and Ford Motor Co., says it has provided samples of its new aluminum for testing to automakers and could begin production when the new metal is ordered.
JLR and Ford, the industry's two largest buyers of aluminum, likely would be among the first to use Advanz 7000.
"We are working with Novelis on a whole range of new, high-strength aluminum alloys, of which the 7000 series could be included for specific applications on future products," said Mark White, JLR's chief body engineer.
Aluminum's growth in the auto industry has been accelerating as a greater number of automakers turn to the lightweight metal to reduce weight, which improves fuel economy and delivers other benefits.
But at an industry conference last week in Traverse City, Mich., officials from the steel industry said they have their own new, ultra-high-strength steel grades that can save weight and reduce manufacturing complexity ready for the market.
Most aluminum panels, such as those used on Range Rovers and the new Ford F-150, are held together by a combination of rivets and adhesive, which is more complex than spot-welding two steel panels.
"As we bring on new steels, how you join them is not a barrier," said Eric Petersen, vice president for research and innovation for AK Steel.
Aluminum has been displacing steel on doors, hoods and other hang-on body parts for years. Strong growth is expected as such vehicles as the Cadillac CT6 and the next generation of the Jeep Wrangler use a greater combination aluminum and steel in a mixed-materials approach.
But the steel industry is fighting back with massive investments in new grades of steel. In 1960, automakers had just two grades of steel from which to choose. Now, there are more than 200, said Jody Hall, vice president of the automotive market at the Steel Market Development Institute.