Novelis' Take on Aluminum Light-Weighting in Auto Industry

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It wouldn’t be an aluminum conference worth going to without hearing Erwin Mayr speak.

Mayr, senior vice president and chief commercial strategist at Novelis, always delivers a thought-provoking and well-put-together presentation, and at this year’s Harbor Aluminum Outlook conference, he focused his sights on light-weighting in the auto industry with aluminum — depending on whom you talk to, a boon for the aluminum’s flat rolled products (FRP) market.

(MetalMiner’s covered light-weighting extensively, both from a sourcing/OEM standpoint and by taking a lighter [ha!] look at the first full-aluminum-bodied car, the Mercedes SL — featuring, incidentally, Novelis-supplied aluminum.)

Obvious to most, the driver — pun, again, intended — behind light-weighting globally is reducing CO2 emissions. Indeed, Mayr supported his case with some light math — with new CAFE standards to take effect in 2025 of 54.5 mpg, that means CO2 must get reduced to just over 100 grams per mile.

He took us through the usual-suspect bullet points on which parts of the automobile are subject to and would benefit from aluminum light-weighting, as well as the history of using aluminum in cars and overviews of the nuances of each geographical auto market (US/North America, Europe, Asia, etc.).

However, Mayr confirmed that aluminum, as a steel substitute, shouldn’t totally blow up just yet. High-strength steels will be around to stay, and the numbers for aluminum vs. steel in body in white (BiW) demand shake out this way, according to Mayr: the BiW market share for steel in 2025 will be around 89 percent, with aluminum representing 11 percent.

“The steel industry will lose a little bit in share, but competition will [still] be there,” he said.

Ultimately though, his numbers looked good for the North American auto market, where 80 kilograms of aluminum are used per vehicle; multiply that by 15 million vehicles per year, and the FRP suppliers are happy. The EU market, however, is less attractive because it’s already a greener market in terms of fuel efficiency, representing only 800,000 tons per year of FRP coil. (Asia represents, by comparison, 2.6 million tons per year of FRP coil.)

With “Aluminum vs. Steel” in the auto market out of the way, Mayr commented on “Cans vs. Cars.” Again, aluminum in cars will continue making strikes, according to his analysis. Today, FRP used for cans is at 4.7 million tons, while for cars it’s 340,000 tons. By 2025, cans will use 8 million tons, while cars could gain to as much as 5 million tons.

In a rare instance of plugging his company or its products, Mayr quipped, “It’s kind of nice for Novelis, because we always say we’re all about cans and automotive, and I feel good about that at the end of the day.”

 

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