AHSS Touted at CAR Management Briefing Seminars

Written by Sandy Williams

Lightweighting vehicles with advanced high strength steel was the topic of conversation August 3 at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars, in Traverse City, Mich.

“Steel is the clear winner in the material competition as a result of its superior value,” said panelist Dr. Jody Hall, Vice President-Automotive Market, Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI). “The newest grades of AHSS together with modern design techniques are helping automakers achieve fuel economy targets without incurring the cost penalties associated with alternative materials. This year, for example, we have seen a lot of great stories with automakers using steel to shed weight – such as the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu and 2016 Nissan Maxima.”

Other automotive manufacturers such as Audi and BMW said they will use a combination of steel, aluminum and carbon fiber in their vehicles to save weight. Manfred Sindel, quality manager for Audi said a disadvantage of the mixed-material approach is the higher cost of aluminum and carbon fiber.

AK Steel, which recently broke ground on a new world-class Research and Innovation Center, plans to introduce Next Generation Advanced High Strength Steels for the automotive industry.  By late 2016, the company says it will produce coated AHSS products and Nex-Gen AHSS with more strength and ductility.

“Steel continues to innovate and provide economic solutions,” said Eric Petersen, Vice President-Research and Innovation at AK Steel. “Since 2000, we’ve gone from 100 grades to more than 250, so we’re optimistic about the future.”

Peterson said that AK Steel will invest $29 million in the Dearborn plant to manufacture ultra-high strength steels that use a new process technology for thermal profiling.

Utilizing AHSS for lightweighting avoids the expensive factory conversion necessary for manufacturing with aluminum. Ford spent nearly $1 billion to re-tool plants for the aluminum F-150 pickup and lost production during the conversion period.

The rush to lightweight vehicles is spurred by 2025 fuel economy regulations, but Hall suggests a more holistic approach is needed to assess automotive environmental impact.

“Manufacturing emissions of primary aluminum are nearly five times greater than those of steel,” said Hall. “That’s why we are pushing for regulators to look at the full life cycle of materials and not focus solely on the use phase of a vehicle. Life cycle assessment shows production of advanced steel generates less emissions than other automotive body materials and provides significant reduction in driving and end-of-life emissions, as well.”

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