We here at MetalMiner are no strangers (in the night) to the relationship between the steel and automotive industries in the United States. (Sorry for the parenthetical – had to carry through my ‘in bed together’ cliche from the headline.)
From my colleague Lisa’s series “Car Wars” to my relatively more recent chat with Ron Krupitzer of the Steel Marketing Development Institute (SMDI) and everything in between, MetalMiner has continually covered the structural importance of high-strength steels in automotive BIW (bodies-in-white).
All that is to say: time for the lighter side of things in the Car Wars ‘series.’
Namely, let me tell you how my experience at SMDI’s Great Designs in Steel conference in Livonia, Mich. – Ford Motor Co.’s literal backyard – made me re-realize how much steel and auto are still in bed together.
Before I even arrived at the conference, I was struck with feeling something different. It wasn’t riding into a city center on a train or in a cab to pop into whichever-flavor-of-the-month hotel the latest metals conference had picked to convene. It was driving my car on I-96 outside Detroit, the nexus – still, amazingly – of the American car industry. (Perhaps China will grab this title soon?)
Turns out I wasn’t alone.
Hundreds of other conference attendees, flocking to network and to (I assume) be amazed by the next great designs in automotive steel applications, also drove their own cars. As the conference center came into view, I noticed three large highway construction barrels blocking my entrance to the front, and numerous young gentlemen waved frantically at me.
Am I trying to park at Solider Field? Or perhaps up in Lakeview for a Cubs game? Nope, just the latest, greatest gathering of steel minds and the auto folks who buy what they’re selling.
The flailing gentlemen directed me toward the next driveway – but wait, that one was full too. So I turned my Hyundai (mine was made in Alabama, back off) into the third driveway, and parked hundreds of yards from the building’s entrance. I feel I should’ve paid the guy waving me in $20 or whatever and taken my foam finger out of my bag.
When I entered the Laurel Manor Conference Center, the main hall was a busy termite colony of activity (but where was the food??). As I scanned the Sea of Khaki before me, it hit me like a ton of HRC: wow, steel really isn’t going anywhere.
No matter what the executive VP of ArcelorMittal can tell me in his PowerPoint, what the heads of the conference promise to their attendees, or the GM engineers in the breakouts can show me in flow chart upon flow chart; no matter the lifecycle emissions-CO2/kg analyses, the cost comparisons, the sheer availability of substitute materials – bottom line, steel is still huge.
Taking in the panorama of hundreds of auto engineers, buyers, suppliers, etc. inside, and juxtaposing that with the hundreds of personal Chevys, Buicks, Jeeps, and whatever else in the lots outside, I realize that the steel lobby is a very strong one, and their cozy relationship with American automakers shouldn’t go away anytime soon.
As Richard Schultz, managing director of Ducker Worldwide’s automotive materials practice, said at Aluminum Week 2012 in Chicago, “However you want to measure it, the steel industry is roughly 9 times bigger than the aluminum industry.”
Its parking lots are at least that much bigger, too.
MORE TO COME: Stay tuned for an interview with Blake Zuidema, ArcelorMittal’s director of automotive product applications.