Asian Automakers Stick with Lightweight Steel While Others Switch to Aluminum

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Hyundai Motors considered shifting from steel to aluminum body parts four years ago for its Genesis sedan to make it lighter, more fuel-efficient and more competitive with German luxury marques, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

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Its affiliate, Kia Motors, made a similar move, building test versions of its premium K9 sedan, called K900 in the United States, using aluminum in body panels including the door, hood and trunk lid, two other people told Reuters.

But the South Korean duo, which together rank fifth in global auto sales, opted for steel instead, deterred by the cost and, according to two of those individuals, hamstrung by close ties with sister steelmaker Hyundai Steel Co.

Automakers in Asia often prefer evolutionary upgrades that enable them to use existing plants and make multiple models on the same assembly lines; western rivals tend to make wholesale product changes that require re-engineering of factories. That’s forcing Asian car companies to find other ways to cut weight and emissions as tighter U.S. and European fuel economy and emissions rules drive a push for lighter cars.

Aluminum demand by Asia’s auto industry is expected to rise 71 percent by 2016, far below a projected five-fold jump in North America, according to an internal forecast by Atlanta-based Novelis Corp

With a 1.1 percent increase over the past day, the aluminum cash price was the biggest mover on the LME, closing at $1,828 per metric ton on Thursday, June 19. On the LME, the 3-month price of aluminum gained 0.9 percent to finish at $1,869 per metric ton. The cash price of primary Indian aluminum inched up 0.7 percent to INR 111.40 ($1.86) per kilogram.

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Chinese aluminum closed mixed yesterday. The cash price of Chinese aluminum declined 0.3 percent to CNY 13,220 ($2,122) per metric ton. The price of Chinese aluminum scrap saw little movement at CNY 12,250 ($1,966) per metric ton. The price of Chinese aluminum billet continues hovering around CNY 13,590 ($2,181) per metric ton for the fifth day in a row. The price of Chinese aluminum bar remained essentially flat at CNY 14,200 ($2,279) per metric ton.

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