In a move that surprises no one, GM has signed a deal with a major aluminum supplier to begin transitioning its trucks to mostly-aluminum bodies in 2018. This move will help GM save a lot of weight, while improving fuel economy, showcasing another way the U.S. truck market is shifting in ways once thought impossible.
GM has signed supply contracts with Alcoa Inc., the world’s third-largest supplier of aluminum. the same company that Ford signed to provide aluminum for the 2015 F-150. The Blue Oval’s big announcement has sent automakers the world over scrambling to secure aluminum supply contracts of their own, as it isn’t only pickups that will utilize the lighter metal. Aluminum prices have spiked as a result.
The 5-star safety-rated Tesla Model S, for example, is constructed almost entirely out of aluminum, and the 2015 Ford Mustang utilizes aluminum hood and fenders to help shave off 300 lbs. compared to the 2014 model. Other automakers, like BMW, are turning to carbon fiber in order to shave weight and improve fuel economy, though it’s also even more expensive than aluminum.
Meanwhile, U.S. Steel is investing millions of dollars in developing newer, lighter steel alloys designed to compete with aluminum. 15% of U.S. Steel’s business comes from the auto industry, and this rush on aluminum could put a big dent in profits. That leaves only Chrysler left to make the move to a lighter alloy, and I guarantee talks are already underway.
GM’s aluminum trucks won’t be ready until late 2018 at the soonest though, leaving Ford several years to cut its teeth on this new method of making trucks. This is one of those situations where being first isn’t necessarily for the best though.