Ducker Worldwide recently surveyed automobile manufacturers around the world at the request of The Aluminum Association’s Aluminum Transportation Group (ATG), and they found that all of them plan on increasing the amount of aluminum used in their vehicles in the next ten years. And not just by a little bit, either. It predicts that the number of vehicles with complete aluminum body structures will reach 18% of North American production, from less than 1% today.
Ford is leading the way. Its new F 150 will be 700 lbs lighter, thanks to extensive use of aluminum. And it has recently showed off a new Fusion that is 23% lighter, thanks to the extensive use of aluminum and carbon fiber. General Motors and Fiat Chrysler also told Ducker they plan to greatly increase the use of aluminum in their future vehicles.
Why the sudden interest in lightness? It’s the same as the sudden interest in hybrids, plug in hybrids, electric cars and fuel cell cars. US regulators want corporate average fuel economy to rise above 50 mpg in the coming years. The only way to reach that standard is with new power trains and much lighter vehicles.
Our cars have really packed on the pounds in the past 20 years. Not so long ago, a normal car weighed 2500 – 3000 lbs. That was back when air conditioning, power windows, power seats, 27 speaker audio systems, in dash navigation systems, cruise control, abs, vehicle stability systems, all wheel drive, hybrid batteries and electric motors to power the wheels were rare or unavailable. Now almost no car leaves the factory without some or all of that stuff installed as standard equipment. Now a “normal” car weighs 4000- 5000 lbs, or more.
It takes energy – and lots of it – to haul all that weight around. If our cars all ran on sunlight, no one would care how much they weigh, but getting to 50+ mph is going to require major surgery to shed pounds. A lot of the push for aluminum is focused on pickup trucks and SUV’s – those ponderous pavement pachyderms that Americans crave. According to Ducker, soon 85% of all hoods and 50% or all doors will be made from aluminum. They estimate that aluminum will comprise 70% of all pickup truck bodies and 22% of SUV bodies.
What does all this mean? Three things come to mind. One, the Ducker report was paid for by the aluminum industry, so a bit of skepticism is in order. Two, the manufacturers don’t see American tastes in vehicles changing. Since trucks and SUV’s are high profit items, the companies have little incentive to get us to change our buying habits. Three, maybe it’s time to call your broker and load up on shares of Alcoa?