June 10, 2014 at 3:36 pm

7 in 10 pickups could be aluminum by 2025

Seven in 10 pickups will have an aluminum body by 2025, forecasts a new study from Ducker Worldwide.

The consulting and research firm projects that every leading automaker will have an aluminum body program in place — and Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will be the biggest users of aluminum.

Ford later this year will bring to market the first aluminum-bodied mass-market vehicle when it introduces its 2015 F-150.

The study was commissioned by the Aluminum Transportation Group, a promoter for the research and use of aluminum. It looked at trends in aluminum usage for the North American vehicle market.

Automakers are using more aluminum, which is lighter than steel, to lessen weight of vehicles and improve fuel efficiency to meet rising federal emissions standards. Typically, for every 100 pounds of weight reduction, fuel efficiency climbs 1-2 percent.

The Steel Market Development Institute said Tuesday that most weight reduction can still be accomplished using advanced high-strength steel.

“These new advanced high-strength steel solutions, which are being evaluated now against competing materials, in many cases offer similar mass savings at much lower cost,” said Ron Krupitzer, vice president of SMDI, in an email.

Reducing vehicle weight is one of many strategies automakers will have to implement to meet federal fuel efficiency standards. Others include downsizing engines and improving aerodynamic drag.

Vehicles averaged a little more than 350 pounds of aluminum content in 2013. That number is expected to rise to nearly 400 pounds by 2015, and could approach 550 pounds by 2025.

But as auto sales rise and the lightweight material becomes more prominent, automakers will need 20 times more raw aluminum sheet for body parts than they do today. Right now automakers need less than 200 million pounds; by 2025 that number balloons to nearly 4 billion pounds.

About 85 percent of all vehicle hoods will be made of aluminum by 2025, up from 1 in 3 in 2012, Ducker estimates. Almost half of all vehicle doors will be made of the lightweight material, an increase from the 6 percent in 2012. Nearly 1 in 3 vehicle roofs will be aluminum, up from 4 percent.

The projections echo a comment from outgoing Ford CEO Alan Mulally in January. Mulally, after introducing the new F-150, said that “over time we’ll see more and more aluminum across (Ford’s) entire lineup.”

Large sedans, sport-utility vehicles and minivans will be the next vehicle segments after pickups to switch to aluminum.

But pickup trucks will remain the biggest piece to the fuel efficiency puzzle, at least for the Detroit automakers, who combine to sell about 4 in every 5 trucks in the U.S.

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, has said the cost-benefit analysis of building an aluminum-bodied pickup doesn’t work in his favor, but he said he is willing to follow Ford’s lead. GM, for the time being, is bringing back smaller pickups to better its fuel efficiency numbers, though it is likely to incorporate a heavy dose of aluminum on its next-generation pickups.

Both companies were in dire financial straights — GM and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in 2009 — when Ford was in the early development stages of its aluminum-bodied F-150.

khenkel@detroitnews.com
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