Paul Cremers

Paul Cremers

Increasing demand for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) will drive growth in steel supply to the European automotive industry by 4.2 million tonnes, according to a study by Tata Steel. The study predicts production of steel for vehicle structure will see a sharp increase if all new vehicles are to have zero emissions by 2050. To find out why steel will be more relevant to the automotive industry than it is today, we spoke to Paul Cremers, Marketing Manager Chassis and Suspension, Tata Steel.

Tata Steel is one of Europe's major steel producers, with steelmaking in the UK and Netherlands, and manufacturing plants across Europe. In addition to automotive, the company supplies steel products to construction, packaging and engineering industries. The combined Tata Steel group is one of the top global steel companies, with an annual steel capacity of 27.5 million tonnes and almost 74,000 employees across five continents. The group's revenue in the year ending March 2017 was $18.1 billion.

To make cars more fuel efficient – and comply with changing regulations – automakers have long since been looking at ways to make their cars lighter. This has opened the door for other materials such as aluminium to eat away at steel's market share. Is steel still holding up in Europe?

Yes, steel is definitely still holding up. In fact, steel is still the main material of choice for mainstream models like the Volkswagen Golf. Aluminium is only penetrating premium segments like the Audi A8 or some of the JLR models, however, where previous models were almost 100 percent aluminium, the new versions contain a significant amount of steel in the crash structures.

We are finding ways to make our steels stronger while remaining formable.

We are finding ways to make our steels stronger while remaining formable enough, which is needed to be able to meet or even exceed the stringent weight targets.

We also see steel is leading in other key aspects with respect to material of choice. As life cycle assessment and sustainability becomes more important, we believe that steel will retain its leading position thanks to its CO2 performance as well as excellent recyclability and upcycling potential.

Lastly, cost remains a major factor and steel still strikes the best balance between cost and light-weighting potential.

The use of high-strength steels are commonplace in vehicle manufacture. What's different about Tata Steel's XPF range?

To meet weight targets, designers are specifying higher strength steels in thinner gauges. However, there can be no compromise on safety, stiffness and durability and other performance standards allowed. Therefore, higher strength and complex shapes are needed to compensate for the lower thickness specified. This is difficult as higher strength normally comes at the expense of formability, which puts limits to the current down gauge potential of high strength steels. XPF steels combine high strength with excellent formability both in elongation and edge ductility, maximising the down gauge potential of steel.

What are the automotive applications for XPF?

Typical applications are in the chassis and suspension area, such as a lower control arm, where high strength needs to be combined with complex geometries. For parts in seating structures, there is a need for steels that combine high strength with excellent formability.

Looking at new full electric vehicle designs, we think that XPF can play a role in the structure of the car, including the crash structure.

High strength steels are under continual development but how does, say, ultra-high strength steel compare to aluminium?

There are examples where the steel solution is lighter than its aluminium equivalent.

Ultra-High strength steels are also still very much in development, where focus is on formability as well as strength. There are examples where the steel solution is lighter than its aluminium equivalent.

What other trends are you seeing with respect to light-weighting using steel in vehicle manufacture?

We believe in a gradual shift from tail pipe emissions to more life cycle analysis, which would mean that other aspects such as CO2 footprint become more important.

We understand that Tata Steel is to finance the repair of a blast furnace at its Port Talbot steelworks thereby extending the furnace's life by seven years. Is this confirmation that Tata Steel is not backing away from the European steel sector?

Steel will remain the material of choice as it is the most versatile, sustainable and cost-effective material to work with.

Tata Steel is investing in its European operations to make them sustainable and ready for future market requirements. There is a clear belief that steel will be the material of choice now and in the future, as it is the most versatile, sustainable and cost-effective material to work with.

What is your long-term view of Tata Steel's European automotive business?

The automotive market is at the verge of a large transition to electrification, digitalisation and sustainability. This will lead to changes to vehicle architecture, manufacturing processes and material use. Tata Steel believes strongly that steel will continue to have a central role in the future automotive market and Tata Steel has the ambition to follow its customers and adapt towards their future needs.