WHITE, Ga. — When Jean-Mark Germain mulls over his map of North American business opportunities, the CEO of the Dutch aluminum producer Constellium NV knows three things for sure:
1. An unprecedented new market is dawning for aluminum content — especially in electric vehicles.
2. Capturing that business will require bold new investments in aluminum capacity, stepped-up r&d and new factories to make the parts.
3. Doing this for future vehicles is a whole new ballgame.
It's not just a question of whether a piece of Constellium-made aluminum will go into the 2020 model this or that, Germain said while opening Constellium's newest plant here in May. Instead, his company and other aluminum suppliers will be creating vehicle systems, engineered to solve new problems and manufactured with new properties.
"There is a high expectation of change coming to the North American auto industry, in how cars are designed and manufactured," Germain told Automotive News as he toured the factory. "The trend toward lighter and safer vehicles is really putting a lot of wind in our sail. But it is more than that.
"It is the EV market," he said. "For vehicles to carry electric batteries, they will be designed with aluminum structures to hold them. And those structures must do more than traditional metal body structures. They must provide thermal transfer capabilities to keep the battery cool or keep it warm in cold weather. So the structure actually becomes part of the power source."
Constellium's new Georgia plant will supply engineered aluminum body structures to several automakers in the Southeast. A major customer will be BMW Manufacturing 200 miles away in Spartanburg, S.C., where Constellium will support the BMW X5 assembly.