Car builders tough cus­tomers

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Steel -

T HE au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try looms large in the steel­mak­ers’ world, and they are now com­ing to terms with the need to vir­tu­ally re- in­vent ve­hi­cle bod­ies in or­der to deal with global en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

As the In­ter­na­tional Iron & Steel In­sti­tute’s au­to­mo­tive group, WorldAuto Steel, puts it:

As the con­sen­sus builds for com­pre­hen­sive re­duc­tions in green­house gas emis­sions across in­ter­na­tional bound­aries, global steel com­pa­nies are re- in­vent­ing the de­ploy­ment of steel to re­duce emis­sions, while still pro­vid­ing safe and af­ford­able per­sonal trans­porta­tion for an in­creas­ingly mo­bile so­ci­ety.’’ The new approach, it adds, will pro­vide au­to­mo­tive so­lu­tions that are light on cost, light on the en­vi­ron­ment and light on nat­u­ral re­sources.’’

Un­spun, this is recog­ni­tion by steel mak­ers that they have to come up with new ideas to pre­vent the alu­minium in­dus­try from steal­ing their lunch as car sales soar be­cause of the greater wealth in de­vel­op­ing na­tions such as China, In­dia and Brazil. And while con­sumers grow in­creas­ingly green in the face of global warm­ing fears.

The steel in­dus­try hopes to win greater mar­ket share from the mo­tor man­u­fac­tur­ers by of­fer­ing them a more cost- ef­fec­tive way to deal with their green­house gas prob­lems, in ad­di­tion to re­duc­ing tailpipe emis­sions.

Auto steel re­search has seen sheet- steel pro­duc­ers spend some $ US60 mil­lion in the past 10 years — not an es­pe­cially large sum, given the size of the mo­tor mar­ket — to come up with new con­cepts for light ve­hi­cle bod­ies in com­pe­ti­tion with the alu­minium sec­tor. The

Fu­ture Steel Ve­hi­cle’’ project, un­veiled dur­ing last De­cem­ber’s UN global warm­ing sum­mit in Bali, sig­nals their ap­pre­ci­a­tion that they will have to run harder and faster.

The ri­valry has led to a war of words be­tween steel and alu­minium pro­duc­ers over what can be achieved to re­duce ve­hi­cle weight — and there­fore fuel con­sump­tion — with­out un­der­min­ing safety and dura­bil­ity, and what the costs are. The steel in­dus­try ar­gues that its prod­ucts are less en­ergy- in­ten­sive, tak­ing into ac­count re­cy­cling at the end of a ve­hi­cle’s life, and less ex­pen­sive than alu­minium in the mo­tor man­u­fac­tur­ing process.

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