Steel Markets

Associations Trade Letters in Automotive Materials Debate

Written by Tim Triplett

Steel and aluminum producers agree that lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles are better for the environment—but that’s where the consensus ends. In letters to the editor published recently by Automotive News, the American Iron and Steel Institute and the Aluminum Association wielded dueling studies to support their claims that theirs is the material of choice to reduce vehicle emissions and increase safety.

“It’s good for the auto industry, good for consumers and good for our planet to see increasing awareness throughout the automotive supply chain, where a true accounting of vehicles’ impact on the environment includes the total life cycle, including materials,” wrote Jody Hall, vice president of the automotive program at AISI in her letter. “For too long, the regulator-driven focus on fuel economy has encouraged an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ dismissal of major environmental costs that must be factored into any serious discussion on sustainability.” The steel industry maintains that aluminum’s weight advantage over steel is more than outweighed by the environmental impact of generating all the electricity required to produce aluminum.

“If the facts are not on your side, pound the table and yell like hell — an old saying that evokes the steel industry’s latest environmental attack against the aluminum industry,” responded Lauren Wilk, vice president of policy and international trade for the Aluminum Association, in her letter. “When the largest material by volume regularly focuses attention on the second most used material, it suggests grave concern. Perhaps it is because, as DuckerFrontier recently confirmed again, aluminum is the fastest-growing automotive material, gaining market share from steel, year over year.”

Both industries make a strong case for their product. Experts with no skin in the game say aluminum and advanced high-strength steel will both help automakers produce vehicles that do less damage to the environment. Market share may shift to a degree from one material to the other (depending on which study one believes), but ultimately, it’s the planet that will be the winner.

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