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Steel Market Development Institute Addresses Vital Role of Steel in Future Automotive Applications

Advanced steel solutions reduce mass and address key performance criteria for future vehicles

As automakers work to satisfy new fuel economy requirements, it is clear that mass reduction will continue to be an important factor. As mass reduction occurs and demands for safety, performance and emissions reduction increase, the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) stresses the vital role that new grades of steel will play in vehicles of the future. According to the latest industry research, newly developed grades of advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) significantly outperform competing materials for current and future automotive applications.

“Today, the mass of a typical light-duty vehicle is about 60 percent steel and independent research shows that advanced high-strength steels are the fastest growing material in automotive applications,” Ron Krupitzer, vice president, automotive applications for SMDI, said. “This growth is a direct result of new steel’s performance flexibility and its many benefits including cost, mass reduction, and safety, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and superior recyclability.”

According to SMDI, although steel has been used in vehicles from the automotive industry’s inception, steel is evolving, as its unique properties allow for new grades of AHSS – a group of stronger and more formable versions of the incumbent steels they replace – to be continually developed. For example, in the mid-1990s, steel introduced the first generation of AHSS grades and in May 2011, WorldAutoSteel’s FutureSteelVehicle project introduced 20 more grades of AHSS (steels that are three to five times stronger than steels of the mid 90s).

In addition, advances in optimization methods and manufacturing processes have increased the mass savings achievable so far to 35 percent. These ongoing improvements in technology have enabled steel to be on par with aluminum concerning weight. Further, optimized steel body structures using AHSS can be constructed at no significant additional cost relative to a conventional body structure, whereas alternate materials carry significant cost penalties.

“AHSS grades are the result of the deliberate formation of specific microstructures in the steel as it is produced,” Krupitzer said. “Given our ability to manipulate microstructure, we’re able to continually transform our material to meet the growing needs of the auto industry without increasing cost or requiring expensive changes in automotive production technologies.”

Steel also provides considerable benefits over competing materials when considering a vehicle’s life cycle emissions. SMDI stresses the need to shift the basis of vehicle emissions regulations from tailpipe-only emissions to life cycle, which includes material and vehicle production, driving and end-of-life-recycling.

According to Krupitzer, most alternative materials generate emissions during their manufacture that are five to 20 times greater than those of steel. And as tailpipe emissions are reduced through the development of more fuel efficient vehicles, manufacturing emissions become an increasingly larger part of the environmental equation. Steel’s inherent and superior recyclability ensures that all of the steel is reused when the car’s useful life is complete.

The Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI), a business unit of the American Iron and Steel Institute, grows and maintains the use of steel through strategies that promote cost-effective solutions in the automotive, construction and container markets, as well as for new growth opportunities in emerging steel markets. For more news or information, visit

SMDI’s Automotive Market Investors

— AK Steel Corporation
— ArcelorMittal Dofasco
— ArcelorMittal USA LLC
— Nucor Corporation
— Severstal North America Inc.
— ThyssenKrupp Steel USA, LLC
— United States Steel Corporation

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