Articles in Category: Product Developments

It’s a new world across all industries, as companies grapple with changing consumer tastes, ever-shifting market conditions and new technological developments.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

Of course, the automotive industry is no different, as automakers strive to adapt to the electric vehicle (EV) wave while simultaneously keeping an ear to the ground when it comes to what their customers want.

For Ford Motor Co., adapting meant ditching its lineup of sedans in the North American market, instead focusing on its popular SUVs and pickup trucks.

Other types of adaptation to a changing business world include simply partnering up with an industry colleague and pooling resources, if you will.

In that vein, this week Ford announced a partnership with Volkswagen, which it called “the first formal agreements in a broad alliance that positions the companies to boost competitiveness and better serve customers in an era of rapid change in the industry.”

According to the company announcement, the automakers plan to collaborate on production of commercial vans and medium-sized pickups for the global market as early as 2022. The alliance between the two companies will be led by a joint committee, which will include Ford CEO Jim Hackett, Volkswagen CEO Dr. Herbert Diess and other senior executives from the two companies.

“Over time, this alliance will help both companies create value and meet the needs of our customers and society,” Hackett said. “It will not only drive significant efficiencies and help both companies improve their fitness, but also gives us the opportunity to collaborate on shaping the next era of mobility.”

In addition to collaboration on vans and trucks, the automakers could work together on electric vehicles.

“In addition, Volkswagen and Ford have signed a memorandum of understanding to investigate collaboration on autonomous vehicles, mobility services and electric vehicles and have started to explore opportunities,” a Ford release stated. “Both companies also said they were open to considering additional vehicle programs in the future. The teams will continue working through details in the coming months.”

Want to a see Cold Rolled price forecast? Get two monthly reports for free!

Ford is scheduled to announce its fourth-quarter 2018 and full-year results during a conference call at 4:15 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

In other news, Volkswagen this week announced it would build its North American electric vehicle manufacturing base in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“Strengthening the company’s commitment to an electric mobility future, this expansion of Volkswagen’s U.S. footprint will include an investment of $800 million into the Chattanooga facility and create 1,000 jobs at the plant, plus additional jobs at suppliers,” a Volkswagen release stated. “EV production at the site will begin in 2022.”

Zerophoto/Adobe Stock

Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the stories here on MetalMiner:

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

Want to a see Cold Rolled price forecast? Get two monthly reports for free!

ThomasNet ran a piece this week on China’s latest blockbuster in the electric vehicle (EV) market: the Ora R1 hatchback from domestic automaker Great Wall.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

I say “blockbuster” not because it’s a rival to Tesla or a similar high-end brand — quite the opposite.

At under $9,000 (after massive subsidies available at the state and federal level in China), the Ora R1 could be a blockbuster in terms of sales.

With a projected range of 194 miles between charges and four doors, the article suggests the vehicle is firmly aimed at the less well-off commuter. In that context, it could have massive appeal for the authorities fighting smog and other forms of air pollution in China’s crowded cities.

The Ora R1 runs on just 47 horsepower with a top speed of about 62 mph, according to the report, which also quotes experts who say it should be capable of powering commuters for about a week per charge (based on real-world driving patterns).

Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it?

Maybe it will be, but for us it has echoes of Tata’s Nano “people’s car,” designed to lure consumers off their cheap motorcycles and into their set of four wheels.

Poor quality, reliability and growing losses forced Tata out of the sector. It was not helped, it should be added, by a PR disaster when the Nano displayed a tendency to burst into flames, frequently recorded on social media.

The Ora is packaging the R1 with a three-year, 120,000-kilometer (74,500 mile) warranty for the entire car, and an eight-year, 150,000-kilometer (93,200 mile) warranty for “core components,” suggesting reliability shouldn’t be a worry – providing the manufacturer honors its commitments.

Source: Great Wall Motors

Whether the Ora R1 will fare any better than the Nano remains to be seen. At prices between U.S. $8,680 to U.S. $11,293, the price is heavily subsidized and should retail at twice that level.

Even so, a $20,000 price in unsubsidized markets would pitch the Ora well under current small car contenders, such as the Nissan Leaf.

But success or failure hinges even more on quality and reliability in this sector than it did for the Nano in India, where consumers’ expectations were not high. EVs outside of China have so far been relatively high-end products with classy interiors and many modern innovations.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

A first road test for the R1 has yet to be released by the Western press. It has to be said, in the visual sense the car looks as bad as the old East German Trabant — but if it drives well, achieves its range projections and holds up from a reliability perspective, owners may yet ignore its ugly duckling looks and flock to what could prove to be a disrupter for the lower end of the EV market.

gui yong nian/Adobe Stock

Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the metals storylines here on MetalMiner:

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

Gary Scott/Adobe Stock

Yes, yes, I know this has nothing to do with metal prices or trading fundamentals — but in my defense I will say it covers two of my passions (so just get over it, will you).

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

ThomasNet occasionally puts out some great — if slightly quirky — reports, and this one from last week is in that form, covering the highly innovative watchmaker REC’s latest project to make a new range of watches from the wing skin of a World War II Spitfire. Nuts, maybe, but cool and rather clever (you can make your own judgement, but I will say it strikes a chord with me).

Firstly, REC hit on the neat idea of taking some kind of iconic piece of junk and turning it into a limited run of high-end watches.

That’s not totally unique, of course.

The Geneva watchmaker Romain Jerome SA took steel and coal from the Titanic and made them into a limited run of watches some 10 years ago, retailing between $7,800 and $173,100, according to Reuters.

REC’s first endeavor was much more accessible: a run of 250 watches made from the body of a rare 1966 Raven Black Mustang, costing “only” $1,500 each. Bravely, they asked clients what they would like to see next — the overwhelming choice was the British World War II fighter, the Spitfire.

REC located PT879, a MKIX, shot down in a dog fight over Russia in 1944. PT879 was one of something like a thousand Spitfires shipped to Russia under the terms of the Allied coalition against the Axis powers. The MKIX was the second-most popular variant of the highly successful Spitfire of which in total over 20,000 were made from just before World War II (in 1938) to a little after the war (in 1948), but of which less than 100 still fly today.

The Spitfire was remarkable in many ways.

Apart from being arguably the most beautiful aircraft ever produced, it was also highly effective, with a fast rate of climb, tight turning radius and an airframe that could be developed to perform and carry much more than it was originally designed to do.

In test pilot trials, one even set an airspeed record of Mach 0.92 (620 mph) — even though the resulting damage nearly ripped the wings off, it remains a remarkable story in its own right.

Part of the Spitfire’s novelty was the all-metal monocoque construction, in which the aircraft surface became a part of the airframe. Prior to World War II, most aircraft were designed around a wooden frame covered with a doped fabric skin, more akin to a World War I biplane.

The beautifully elliptical aircraft wings of the Spitfire were designed to reduce drag, but also gave the aircraft a beautiful and iconic shape that begged celebration in a personalized item, like a watch. The wing skin was made from a 2000 series aluminum-copper alloy and each dial will contain a piece of the wing skin, each carrying the unique service scars imparted during its brief life.

If it flicks your switch, a little piece of aviation history can be yours for around $1,300. If a Spitfire is not your thing, hang in there — REC will likely have some equally goofy, if no less alluring, idea in due course.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

A health warning: no spitfires were destroyed or otherwise damaged in the making of this article, or these watches. PT879 is being painstakingly renovated with modern hairline crack free aluminum wings and may yet bless our skies when it rises, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the scrap yard.

ale_flamy/Adobe Stack

The London Metal Exchange is feeling the heat from rivals CME and the SHFE, it would seem.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

In an announcement last week reported by Reuters, the 141-year-old exchange advised it was introducing a plethora of new contracts to woo customers increasingly attracted by products on competitors’ platforms.

New technology at the LME is said to enable the exchange to introduce alternative products more cheaply and quickly than previously and encouraged it to try several cash settled futures options that, historically, fear of low liquidity would have barred.

The exchange is said to be introducing some 10 new cash settled contracts, including two regional aluminum premium contracts, minor metal molybdenum, plus options in gold and silver.

But the most interesting is probably a hot-rolled steel coil contract, with three regional prices covering Europe, North America and China, as opposed to the CME’s contract (which just covers North America based on the CRU Mid-West Index).

The LME’s reference index has yet to be announced, but it is hoped the exchange’s intended global coverage will attract more liquidity than the CME’s North American contract, which has struggled to gain liquidity since launch (although it has been widely adopted as an index price for steel supply chain contracts).

The other contract that raised some eyebrows is one for alumina.

Traditionally, alumina prices were fixed under long-term contracts and often tied to the primary aluminum price. But a few years ago, Alcoa broke with tradition and started pricing its alumina on the spot market, a move that many other refineries have since followed.

A largely spot market has resulted in considerable price volatility, aided this year by tight capacity and supply disruption. The LME’s timing could not be better, as a few years ago an alumina contract would have gone down like a lead balloon; today, the market may well respond positively to the opportunity to hedge price risk.

Achieving volume — and with it, liquidity — is about attracting the major producers and consumers. The aluminum contract, now the LME’s largest, struggled in its early days because the producers would not touch it, seeing it as a vehicle to undermine their pricing power.

Today, those same primary producers are on the receiving end of price volatility and may be more welcoming of a mechanism to hedge their input costs and output prices on the same platform.

In the cards for 2020 is a possible lithium contract, a metal that has been propelled from back page news to the front page headlines in recent years due to surging demand from batteries for all kinds of electronics, from iPhones to electric vehicles.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2018 buying strategies for carbon steel

The LME is rightly not rushing that one, as it is still a relatively immature market and one that entails a large proportion of mine to battery maker direct trade; a contract will take careful planning.

But resources the LME has in depth after 141 years are patience and experience.

Every global business worth its name has or is going digital — the mining sector is no different.

But is the mining sector getting it right while it goes about the transformation? Not exactly, claims advisory agency Ernst & Young in a new report.

Need buying strategies for steel? Try two free months of MetalMiner’s Outlook

In the report titled, “Digital mining: the next wave of business transformation” — not to be confused with the mining of data — it says digital maturity across the mining and metals sectors means that current digital solutions are merely “functional or siloed,” and only address parts of the value chain.

Global mining companies have started to make some headway in using digital technologies to improve productivity. But, as the report says, focusing on productivity alone is not enough to generate competitive advantage. Companies need to adopt “a more cohesive, end-to-end approach to integrate digital initiatives,” the report states.

In this paper, the E&Y team has explored more of the “how” to commence a digital transformation rather than the “why” businesses should embark on the change.

The report has identified around 60 digital themes and initiatives across the sector, though it finds few examples of a clear, integrated and businesswide approach among mining and metals organizations.

The team has proposed a “wave approach,” which seeks to balance risk and return, and the need for rapid action but also thoughtful planning for players in this sector.

“Mining & metals has so far lagged other sectors in the realm of digital effectiveness,” said Anjani Kumar Agrawal, partner and national leader for metals and mining at Ernst & Young. “The value from digital will only be realized when companies change how they work, rather than succumbing to the lure of individual technology programs and pursuing local optimization, which is not necessarily transformational.

“While a revolutionary approach to digital would be too disruptive, we believe companies with mining activities should adopt a progressive, multiyear strategy that also accounts for business risk and the primary drivers of value.”

Paul Mitchell, Ernst & Young’s global mining & metals advisory leader, stressed the importance of adaptability.

“We see the end-state vision for the mining sector as constantly changing and businesses will need to be ready to adapt and change course as required,” Mitchell said. “While we don’t believe the sector will see radical disruption, the opportunity for new entrants to disrupt existing players poses a real threat. Market leadership can be lost quickly if dominant players respond slowly or ineffectively to industry disruption and external changes. However, the pathway through the waves of digital transformation should not be viewed as inflexibly sequential or static.”

The “waves” that are referred to in the E&Y report are a series of digital transformation waves, which the agency feels “is the optimal way to transition a business from current to future state” and steadily introduce more digital hotspots and interconnections, all as part of a coherent overarching strategy.

Focusing on productivity and profitability alone is not enough to generate competitive advantage, say the experts, but focus must be given to innovation, too.

This approach is structured around these key components:

Digital pre-start: building out connectivity to prepare for digital transformation, which typically involves investment in infrastructure, communications and data.

  • Wave 1: activities that focus on the productivity or performance improvement agenda, and are typically operated within a single function. At this stage, digital can enable a mining operation to manage inherent variability & move toward manufacturing levels of productivity.
  • Wave 2: these activities are broader & span the whole value chain & include initiatives to better manage margin through interactions with customers & suppliers.
  • Wave 3: this stage refers to the rise of disruptive factors that may create significant changes in how the sector operates & may require a step change in business strategy.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2018 buying strategies for carbon steel

This new report comes in the wake of another report, ‘Top 10 business risks facing mining and metals 2017–2018”, in which E&Y identified “digital effectiveness” as the No. 1 risk facing the mining and metals sector.

The full E&Y report, “Digital mining: the next wave of business transformation,” is available here.

The recent AI Summit at the White House brought together industry figures in the world of artificial intelligence (AI), a term that has no doubt picked up momentum from something as the province of a futuristic, far-off world to something more nearly attainable.

Need buying strategies for steel? Try two free months of MetalMiner’s Outlook

According to a White House release, the summit last month included “more than 100 senior government officials, technical experts from top academic institutions, heads of industrial research labs, and American business leaders who are adopting AI technologies to benefit their customers, workers, and shareholders.”

When thinking of AI, many conjure up images of intelligent robots or programs like IBM’s Watson (which, if you’ll remember, grew in prominence after competing against “Jeopardy!” champions in 2011).

But what about applications for AI in the metals industry? Well, who better to ask than Noodle.ai CEO Stephen Pratt, who worked on the IBM computer system and now works with companies like Big River Steel to streamline manufacturing processes with the power of AI.

Based in Osceola, Arkansas, Big River Steel teamed up with Noodle.ai — founded in 2016 and headquartered in San Francisco — in what they billed the world’s first “learning” steel mill.

In a recent phone conversation with MetalMiner, Pratt talked about his background, the founding of Noodle.ai, the partnership with Big River Steel and the future of AI.

Read more

The Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) presented results of a new study on steel’s lightweighting capabilities during the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday, Feb. 8, at McCormick Place in Chicago. Photo by Fouad Egbaria

Use of aluminum in automotive bodies has gained steam in recent years — and the metal’s rivalry with steel has heated up in the process.

Need buying strategies for steel? Try two free months of MetalMiner’s Outlook

For example, Ford Motor Co. shook up the marketplace when it announced its all-aluminum body F-150 2015 model. Aluminum, despite being more costly than steel, is lauded for its lighter weight and, thus, ability to provide better fuel economy.

Not so fast on that front, according to a study presented by the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) on Thursday, Feb. 8, during the annual Chicago Auto Show.

SMDI, a business arm of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), presented results of a study that concludes steel is a superior option to aluminum when it comes to lightweighting and curbing environmental impacts.

Tom Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute. Photo by Fouad Egbaria

Tom Gibson, president and CEO of AISI (and president of SMDI), touted the more than 60 steel-intensive vehicles debuted in the last year at auto shows in Detroit, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

“Steel continues to play an integral role in new vehicle debuts,” Gibson said. “In the last month, we’ve seen the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado, Ford Ranger, all-new Ram 1500, Toyota Avalon, Honda Accord and Kia Forte, all touting the benefits of advanced, high-strength steels.

“With the mix of materials available to designers and engineers today, no other material provides the complete package steel provides with performance, value and innovation, as well as being the most environmentally sound material for automakers and consumers.”

Jody Hall, vice president, automotive market, of SMDI, presented the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study findings, comparing steel with aluminum. The LCA study tested five different vehicles and went through a 10-month review, Hall said, and was validated by a “panel of experts” from Harvard University, Argonne National Laboratory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and consultancy firm thinkstep.

“The bottom line is, the result of this expert-validated study shows for the vehicles studied, lightweighting with advanced, high-strength steel produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than lightweighting with aluminum,” Hall said. “The difference comes, primarily, from the material production phase emissions of advanced high-strength steel and aluminum. These are emissions not captured when focusing only on tailpipe emissions under current EPA regulations.”

Hall further emphasized the case for steel, saying that if one lightweighted the five vehicles in the study with aluminum instead of steel, “the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions increase is estimated at 12 million tons of CO2 emissions. That’s the equivalent of the amount of electricity used to power 1.6 million homes.”

More details on the study, titled “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas and Energy Study of Automotive Lightweighting,” and its methodology can be found at www.steelsustainability.org.

AK Steel CEO Roger Newport. Photo by Fouad Egbaria

During the presentation, AK Steel CEO Roger Newport also delivered some comments on the state of the steel industry vis-a-vis the automotive world. Newport said steel has evolved to meet changing consumer demands in recent decades, and noted there’s been a “remarkable change” in the importance of materials when it comes to automotive construction.

“Materials are front and center,” he said.

It remains to be seen how much market share aluminum can capture. In the meantime, the steel industry will no doubt continue to tout its virtues compared with aluminum.

“The SMDI along with AK Steel are very excited about the potential of new, innovative steel products,” Newport said. “We continue our efforts to support the changes in the automotive world.”

Odds and Ends from Day 1 at the Auto Show

A few other miscellaneous notes from the first day of the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday, Feb. 8:

Subaru Presents 50th Anniversary Lineup

Subaru presented its 50th anniversary lineup, composed of nine vehicles, during

Subaru’s 50th anniversary lineup of vehicles. Photo by Fouad Egbaria

an unveiling ceremony. Tom Doll, president and chief operating officer of Subaru of America, Inc., touted the automaker’s growth since 2008, a period during which its market share rose from 1.4% to 3.8%, he said, and has seen it become the seventh-best selling brand in the industry.

“We’re not that small, fledgling little car company anymore,” Doll said.

Production quantities will be limited to 1,050 for Crosstrek, Forester, Impreza, Legacy and Outback, while WRX, STI and BRZ will have a combined total of 1,050, according to a Subaru release.

Kia Stinger Wins MotorWeek’s Best of the Year Award

Thursday afternoon at the Grand Concourse media stage, MotorWeek presented its Best of the Year award, which this year went to the Kia Stinger.

MotorWeek’s John Davis (left) presents Michael Sprague, chief operating officer of Kia Motors America, with the publication’s Best of the Year award for the Kia Stinger. Photo by Fouad Egbaria

MotorWeek host and creator John Davis said they try to pick a vehicle each year that captures “that moment in the automotive landscape,” in addition to, simply, being fun to drive.

“Our Best of the Year for 2018 really is the perfect definition of our award,” Davis said. “It’s a lot of fun to drive but moreover it is the result of a brand setting and achieving a new bar of prowess that is on par with the world’s best.”

The vehicle has a 3.3-liter twin turbo V6, an 8-speed automatic transmission and available performance-oriented all-wheel-drive system.

Michael Sprague, chief operating officer of Kia Motors America, accepted the award from Davis.

“It was introduced back in 2011 at the Frankfort Auto Show as a concept vehicle,” Sprague said. “Many people here in the audience told us ‘you have to build this car.'”

Klairmont Kollections Brings Retro Vibe

You won’t see too many cars like these on the streets today, but Klairmont Kollections took drivers down memory lane during its first ride as an exhibitor at the Chicago Auto Show.

Photo by Fouad Egbaria

Want to see an Aluminum Price forecast? Take a free trial!

The collection of unique vehicles, some dating back to the early 1900s, is based in Chicago and owned by World War II veteran and Highland Park, Illinois resident Larry Klairmont.

gui yong nian/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, China is aiming to meet its 2020 goal for steel capacity cuts this year, a new bottle technology makes aluminum bottles feel like plastic and copper output in the Democratic Republic of Congo rose significantly in 2017.

Need buying strategies for steel? Try two free months of MetalMiner’s Outlook

Chinese Government Looks to Hit Capacity Cuts Two Years Early

The Chinese government plans to reach its previously set 2020 goals for steel capacity reduction this year, Reuters reported.

According to the report, the government plan called for the reduction of 150 million tons of steel capacity by 2020.

An Aluminum Bottle that Feels Like Plastic?

According to a report in Packaging World, one company has been working on a bottle innovation for about a decade that will produce aluminum bottles with the feel of plastic.

Betty Jean Pilon, president of Montebello Packaging, explained the company’s Ushape blow-molded bottle technology during The Packaging Conference, held Feb. 5-7 in Orlando, Florida.

“We know that Canada, the United States, China, and Brazil are the largest beverage markets in the world,” Pilon was quoted as saying. “They singlehandedly produce 100 billion bottles each year. The Europeans consume about 63 billion, the South Americans about 32 billion, and the rest of the world, approximately 20 billion. So that’s why we got into it.”

Congo Copper Output Up 6.9% in 2017

Copper output in the Democratic Republic of Congo shot up 6.9% in 2017, Reuters reported.

Want to see an Aluminum Price forecast? Take a free trial!

The country produced 1.09 million tons of copper last year, according to the report, while its cobalt output rose 15.5% to 73,940 tons.