Survey: Aluminum Will Help Auto Industry Meet CAFE Standards

Among some of the common materials used to manufacture vehicles, aluminum holds the most promise to help automakers meet the new fuel-economy standards.

That's the conclusion of a recent survey of automotive suppliers and OEMs, commissioned by DuPont.

Of the survey's 1,093 respondents, 73% pointed to aluminum as the material that will provide the biggest benefit to the auto industry as it tries to meet the corporate-average fuel-economy standards announced in late July.

The respondents were asked to rate the helpfulness of aluminum; plastics; carbon-fiber composites; elastomers and fiber reinforcement; advanced high-strength steel; and magnesium on a scale of 1 to 5 (with "5" meaning "very helpful" and 1 meaning "not at all helpful").

Aluminum got the most 4's and 5's out of any material on the list.

The survey, conducted by Paramount Research, was sent to readers of Ward's Automotive, a sister publication of IndustryWeek. The results were unveiled at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminar in Traverse City, Mich., earlier this month.

Is aluminum really the answer? Not surprisingly, the folks at Norsk Hydro's Extrusion North America unit certainly think so.

The aluminum producer says it "has been working with vehicle producers for decades to design and manufacture strong, lightweight parts, including components on new hybrid and electric vehicles."

"Aluminum has a strength-to-weight ratio that meets engineering and safety needs, is durable and is a material that designers are comfortable working with," said Matthew Dionne, president of Hydro's Extrusion North America unit.

Pressure to increase fuel efficiency is inspiring automakers to be creative, Dionne adds, which is why "you're seeing aluminum move from relatively simple uses, like seat tracks and brackets, to more sophisticated structural applications."

"And advances in fabrication and finishing are moving aluminum parts from internal, functional uses to external applications that are visible to the consumer."

The new CAFE standards call for automakers to achieve a combined average of at least 54.5 miles per gallon across all of their new car and light-duty-truck lines manufactured in 2025 and beyond.

So, is aluminum the answer? Or at least one of the answers?

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