Automakers' shift to aluminum boosts suppliers
February 7, 2013
By:  Yuliya Fedorinova and Marina Sysoyeva

Carmakers from Ford Motor Co. to Audi AG and Jaguar Land Rover Plc are using record amounts of aluminum to replace heavier steel, providing relief to producers of the metal who are confronting excess supplies and depressed prices.


Aluminum content in vehicles is rising about 5 percent a year and growth will accelerate in the next decade as carmakers seek improved fuel economy and lower emissions, according to Gayle Berry, a London-based analyst at Barclays.


Automakers like Ford, the second-largest in the U.S., should help pull aluminum suppliers out of a slump, said Kirill Chuyko, an analyst for BC Financial Group in Moscow. Some 25 percent of demand is from the transport industry, with cars and light trucks using two-thirds of this, the International Aluminum Institute estimates.


In the U.S., the popularity of the Ford F-150 pickup looms among the largest threat from automakers to the steel industry. The next generation of the pickup will be redesigned, with a higher aluminum content helping to reduce its weight by as much as 750 pounds, Ford has said.


"The F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in North America, and would likely trigger all other truck makers to convert" to increased aluminum content, said Kenneth Hoffman, Princeton-based sector head for metals and mining research at Bloomberg Industries.


A switch to aluminum among U.S. carmakers could add as much as 40 percent to North American demand in coming years, said Hoffman.


For each 10 percent of reduction in vehicle weight, car manufacturers achieve a 5 percent to 7 percent fuel saving, Alcoa Inc. says on its website. A car with components made of aluminum can be 24 percent lighter than one with components made of steel.


Global automakers may increase use of the light metal to 550 pounds per car in 2025 from 327 pounds in 2009, the Aluminum Association estimated last month.


The association gave its forecast as Honda Motor Co. presented an Accord with increased aluminum content and General Motors Co. unveiled the Cadillac ATS and the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado at the Detroit auto show.