A new study commissioned by the US-based Aluminum Association, showed that North American use of automotive aluminium is at an all-time high, averaging 8.6% of vehicle curb weight in 2009 calendar year vehicles, up from just 2% in 1970 and 5.1% in 1990.


The integration of aluminium in cars and light trucks is projected to be nearly 11% of curb weight by 2020.


On a worldwide basis, the amount of aluminium content for light vehicles is 7.8% of the average worldwide light vehicle curb weight of 3,185 pounds in 2009. Content growth is predicted to continue at a rate of four to five pounds per vehicle, per year, and approach 300 pounds per vehicle worldwide in 2020.


“The data demonstrates that automakers in North America and around the globe continue to recognise the value of automotive aluminium,” said Buddy Stemple, chairman of the Aluminum Association’s auto and light truck group. “As automakers seek to innovate and differentiate themselves with more fuel efficient cars and trucks with a reduced carbon footprint, the time to use advanced materials like aluminium is now – and this study shows that automakers agree.”


North America ranks as the world leader in aluminium penetration in cars, pickups, SUVs and minivans where a net increase of more than eight pounds between 2006 and 2009 calendar year vehicles despite a 10% loss in share for large, full-frame vehicles with high aluminium content. Over 50 vehicles produced in North America contain over 10% aluminium content.


Honda and BMW are now the aluminium content leaders, replacing General Motors and Nissan, with each averaging more than 340 pounds of aluminium per vehicle. General Motors, Honda, Toyota , BMW, Hyundai and Volkswagen all increased the amount of aluminium content of their North American vehicles from 2006 to 2009.


On a component basis, the study cites engine blocks and steering knuckles with the largest increase in growth over the last three years; with penetration of aluminium blocks reaching nearly 70% – the largest driver of aluminium growth in this decade. In addition, more than 22% of vehicles currently made in the US have aluminium bonnets (hoods), an all-time record.


“We’re seeing continued growth of automotive aluminium because of the relevant advantages it offers, such as improved fuel economy and vehicle safety,” said Stemple. “In fact, hybrid and diesel vehicles when paired with aluminium can actually pay consumers back faster than if those vehicles were made of heavier steel.”


Since the 2006 model year, aluminium content has also experienced steady growth in light vehicle applications in other regions of the world, but especially in Europe and Japan. Long-term growth rates remain in line with the significant growth rates of the late 1970s to early 1990s, despite the shift to smaller vehicles.


Worldwide aluminium content is projected to grow to 28 to 30bn pounds per year – up from the current 16 to 17bn pounds – between now and 2020, not taking scrap and spare parts into account.


An estimated total of 67 vehicles from the European (49) and Japanese (18) markets now contain more than 400 pounds of finished aluminium.


As the future of the global automotive industry quickly shifts to more fuel-efficient products, vehicles around the world will be manufactured with a variety of solutions and powertrain improvements. In fact, material experts and body engineers surveyed in this study expect 25% of fuel economy improvement to come from weight savings, while powertrain experts predict that 50% of the improvements will be the result of weight reduction.


For North America specifically, automakers and other experts ranked the use of aluminium as a replacement for heavier materials as a “very significant” option to improve fuel economy to 35 miles-per-gallon by 2020 and nearly as important as hybrid technology.


The study also showed that secondary (recycled) aluminium is expected to continue to represent at least 50% of the total amount of automotive aluminium used to the end of 2020; aluminium use in Chinese vehicles is predicted to surpass Japanese automakers by 2020; aluminium anti-lock braking system housings will be on 85% of 2009 vehicles; and nearly half of all 2009 models will have at least one pair of aluminium steering knuckles.