The use of aluminium in vehicles produced in North America is expected to grow rapidly over the next decade, according to research by US-based research firm Ducker Worldwide.

According to Ducker, over the next decade automakers will continue to increase the adoption of high-strength, low weight aluminium in new car and truck construction at a faster pace than any time in history. Total aluminium content is expected to grow from 397 pounds per vehicle (PPV) in 2015 to 565 PPV by 2028, representing 16% of total vehicle weight, according to a survey of automakers conducted by Ducker.

Ducker says this is consistent with the emerging trend of automakers transitioning to a multi-material vehicle (MMV) design approach, choosing aluminium for doors, hoods and trunk lids, body-in-white, bumpers and crash boxes.

"Aluminium remains the fastest growing automotive material over competing materials and is entering its most unprecedented growth phase since we've been tracking the shifting mix of automotive materials," said Abey Abraham of Ducker Worldwide. "To further improve fuel economy, battery range, safety and overall driving performance, automakers no longer default to a single material and instead are pursuing a multi-material design approach where the best material is chosen for the best application. This design evolution is what's driving aluminium's increased market penetration in the auto sector."         

"As our automotive customers embrace a multi-material approach to new car and truck design, that directly translates to increased amounts of aluminium. On top of 40 years of uninterrupted growth, the aluminium industry is experiencing a level of sustained growth not seen before in any market or product sector. However, the true winners of this change are American consumers who can choose next-generation cars and trucks that are high performing, efficient, safe, sustainable and more fun to drive," said Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the Aluminium Association. "A thriving aluminium sector is vital to automakers, the nation's manufacturing base and a healthy U.S. economy. The aluminium industry invested or committed more than $2 billion to ensure increased capacity in the U.S. since 2013, and the industry is prepared to continue such investments in domestic manufacturing jobs as demand continues to grow."

2020 Projections

The study finds that total aluminium content for North American lightweight vehicles will increase to nearly 9 billion pounds, averaging 466 PPV by 2020, an increase of 69 pounds from 2015. Aluminium parts will more than double with aluminium hoods/bonnets expected to reach 71% penetration (up from 50% today). Fifty percent of total aluminium content growth from 2015 to 2020 will be driven by closures, crash management systems, steering knuckles and structural vacuum die cast parts. Aluminium vacuum die castings are expected to grow from less than three PPV today to 14 PPV by 2020. The average passenger car will contain 362 pounds of aluminium and the average light truck will contain 523 pounds of aluminium by 2020.

Projections - 2020 to 2028

Ducker projects total aluminium content growing to 565 PPV (16% of curb mass) by 2028 with nearly 25% of vehicles having partial aluminium body-in-white. More than two million of those vehicles will be pickup trucks and 400,000 will have plug-in hybrid or zero-emissions powertrains. Forecasts for the 2020 to 2028 time period are based on EPA and NHTSA technology implementation pathways suggesting mass reduction from zero percent for some passenger cars and small SUVs to 20% for large trucks and SUVs to achieve an overall industry average mass reduction of 7% (270 pounds) by 2025. Empirical evidence from Ducker's research suggests achieving 7% curb mass reductions is likely to be delayed to 2028 due, in part, to new model launch timing constraints with several vehicles expected to launch post-2024 with significant aluminium body content. Under either scenario, a multi-material approach is the expected pathway with aluminium contributing to more than 50 percent of total mass reduction.

Brock added, "It is proven that vehicles made lighter with aluminium offer consumers better fuel economy, improved safety and enhanced performance. Furthermore, aluminium is the best choice for the environment when compared to both traditional and advanced steels, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Oakridge National Laboratory.".

Further, Ducker Worldwide estimates that 71% of hoods/bonnets will be aluminium by 2020, up 50% on 2015. The consulting firm expects that by 2025, 80% of the hood will be aluminium. On top of that, it anticipates that bumper beams will jump from 33% aluminium in 2015 to 54% in 2020.