As western automakers embrace aluminium, Asia still welded to steel

Jun 20 2014, 11:57 IST
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Hyundai Motor considered shifting from steel to aluminium body parts for its Genesis sedan to make it lighter, more fuel-efficient. Hyundai Motor considered shifting from steel to aluminium body parts for its Genesis sedan to make it lighter, more fuel-efficient.
SummaryAs western carmakers such as Audi AG and Ford Motor Co lead the way in using aluminium, which is lighter but more expensive than steel, their Asian rivals are reluctant to invest in the costly retooling.

meeting at the automaker's research center on the outskirts of Seoul, engineers proposed expanding the use of lightweight aluminium from the hood to other outer body panels and even frames, said the person, who was present. But Hyundai went in the opposition direction, swapping aluminium with steel even for the hood, because of its ties with Hyundai Steel and the higher costs associated with aluminium.

"This was a step backward for Hyundai," the person said.

The latest Genesis gained as much as 390 pounds (177 kg) from its predecessor, launched in 2008, and weighs 181 pounds more than BMW's rival 535i.

U.S. chief Dave Zuchowski said Hyundai has "put a lot of additional weight into structural rigidity" to pass tougher U.S. crash tests. "We used to say we'd like to reduce the weight in the car 10 percent as we bring them out. In this world, with ... crash requirements and things like that, you're not going to be able to do that," he told reporters in Detroit last month.

STRONGER STEEL

Instead of embracing aluminium, Asian automakers are working with steelmakers to develop lighter, stronger steel, while taking other measures to improve fuel efficiency including upgrading conventional engines and parts without having to make heavy modifications to manufacturing facilities.

"Hyundai Motor is under enormous pressure to cut costs since it's a volume, mass-market carmaker," Woo Yoo-cheol, president and CEO of Hyundai Steel, told Reuters. "The most important thing is to stay competitive in the market. They believe it is much more competitive to use steel for their flagship models."

For now, Japanese carmakers limit aluminium mostly to parts of hybrid and premium vehicles, such as Toyota's Lexus IS. Honda Motor has developed technology to combine aluminium and steel for select parts in the U.S. versions of its Acura RLX and Accord. "When we consider mass production, all-aluminium is still difficult," Honda spokeswoman Yuka Abe told Reuters.

Nissan Motor last year announced a plan to expand the use of high-tensile steel, which is stronger and lighter than conventional steel, in up to 20 percent of parts installed in its new production models starting in 2017.

"We continue to use aluminium in vehicle areas such as hoods, doors and trunk areas on certain models - such as the GT-R and 370Z high-performance sports cars. Going forward, more high-strength steel will be used in key structural areas," said Chris Keeffe, a spokesman for Nissan.

STEEL SURPLUS

Asian automakers stick with steel in part

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