APRIL 2009

Automotive aluminum use reaches all-time high

New data indicates automakers continue to innovate with greater use of aluminum to boost fuel economy, cut emissions and improve safety. A new study by Ducker Worldwide, commissioned by The Aluminum Association, Inc., confirms that in North America the use of automotive aluminum is at an all-time high, averaging 8.6 percent of vehicle curb weight in 2009 calendar year vehicles, up from just 2 percent in 1970 and 5.1 percent in 1990. Additionally, the integration of aluminum in cars and light trucks is projected to be nearly 11 percent of curb weight by 2020.

On a worldwide basis, the amount of aluminum content for light vehicles is 7.8 percent of the average worldwide light vehicle curb weight of 3,185 lbs. in 2009. Content growth is predicted to continue at a rate of 4 to 5 lbs. per vehicle, per year, and approach 300 lbs. per vehicle worldwide in 2020.

North America continues to lead

North America ranks as the world leader in aluminum penetration in cars, pickups, SUVs and minivans where a net increase of more than 8 lbs. occurred between 2006 and 2009 calendar year vehicles despite a 10 percent loss in share for large, full-frame vehicles with high aluminum content. More than 50 vehicles produced in North America contain over 10 percent aluminum content.

Honda and BMW are now the aluminum content leaders replacing General Motors and Nissan with both companies averaging more than 340 lbs. of aluminum per vehicle. General Motors, Honda, Toyota, BMW, Hyundai and Volkswagen all increased the amount of aluminum content of their North American vehicles from 2006 to 2009.

On a component basis, the study cites engine blocks and steering knuckles with the ­largest increase in growth over the last three years; with penetration of aluminum blocks reaching nearly 70 percent – the largest driver of aluminum growth in this decade. In addition, more than 22 percent of vehicles currently made in the United States have aluminum hoods, an all-time record.

Global growth continues

Since the 2006 model year, aluminum content has also experienced steady growth in light vehicle applications in other regions of the world, but especially in Europe and Japan. Long-term growth rates remain in line with the significant growth rates of the late 1970s to early 1990s, despite the shift to smaller vehicles.

Worldwide aluminum content is projected to grow to 28 to 30 billion lbs. per year – up from the current 16 to 17 billion pounds – between now and 2020, not taking scrap and spare parts into account.

An estimated total of 67 vehicles from the European (49) and Japanese (18) markets now contain more than 400 lbs. of finished aluminum.

Experts Weigh In

As the future of the global automotive industry quickly shifts to more fuel-efficient products, vehicles around the world will be manufactured with a variety of solutions and powertrain improvements. In fact, material experts and body engineers surveyed in this study expect 25 percent of fuel economy improvement to come from weight savings, while powertrain experts predict that 50 percent of the improvements will be from weight reduction.

For North America specifically, the use of aluminum as a replacement for heavier materials is a very significant option to improve fuel economy and nearly as important as hybrid technology.