Automotive

Quick Read

Aluminum builds a better vehicle. Aluminum’s use in autos and commercial vehicles is accelerating because it offers the fastest, safest, most environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to increase performance, boost fuel economy and reduce emissions while maintaining or improving safety and durability. From mass-market vehicles like the Ford F-150 to luxury cars like Audi, Mercedes Benz and Land Rover, aluminum is increasingly the “material of choice” for automakers thanks to its strength and environmental advantages. The Aluminum Association’s Aluminum Transportation Group (ATG) communicates the benefits of aluminum in transportation through research programs and related outreach activities. For more information on how aluminum is driving the cars of today and tomorrow, please visit www.drivealuminum.org.

Take-Away Facts

  • Continuous growth in automotive use
    Use of automotive aluminum has grown continuously for 40 years. Aluminum is now second only to steel as the most used material in vehicles.
  • Recycled at record levels
    At the end of a vehicle’s life nearly 90 percent of the aluminum, on average, is recycled.
  • Energy efficiency
    Compared with a fleet of traditional steel vehicles, aluminum use saves the equivalent of 108 million barrels of crude oil in energy.
  • Safer
    Pound for pound, aluminum can absorb twice the crash energy of mild steel. Larger crush zones can be designed without corresponding weight penalties.

Performance benefits

Because aluminum is lighter, it allows automakers to increase dent resistance—they can make body panels thicker while still lowering weight.  And a lower weight vehicle has better acceleration, better braking and better handling.  In addition, lighter vehicles can haul and tow more because the engine isn’t carrying unneeded weight.

Weight, strength and safety benefits

When applied to an optimized automotive body structure, aluminum can provide a weight savings of up to 50 percent compared with the traditional mild steel structure. Aluminum body structures are equal or superior in strength to steel and absorb twice as much crash-induced energy. Primary-structure weight savings also allow other vehicle systems to be downsized (including the engine, transmission, suspension and wheels). Across the board, in weight, strength and safety, aluminum’s advantages are clear. That’s why a survey of North American automakers projected aluminum content of the average vehicle to nearly double by 2025.

Environmental benefits

Nearly 90 percent of automotive aluminum scrap—more than a half-million tons a year—is recovered and recycled. To place this in perspective: Recycling 1 ton of aluminum saves the energy equivalent of 2,350 gallons of gasoline. The environmental wins continue: Independent studies have confirmed that aluminum has a 20 percent smaller lifecycle CO2 footprint than steel. And compared with today’s steel cars, a fleet of aluminum vehicles saves the equivalent of 44 million tons of CO2 emissions.

Looking forward: The race for fuel efficiency

Increasingly, consumers are demanding more fuel-efficient vehicles. Considering this along with new fuel economy regulations that will require the U.S. vehicle fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, the auto industry is responding. One example: Ford’s new all-aluminum-body F-150 pickup truck. This move toward aluminum has profound implications—the Ford F-150 is the most popular vehicle of any kind in the United States and one of the most profitable motor vehicle lines in the world. The new F-150 truck will shed 700 pounds (approximately 15 percent in vehicle body-weight) with a high-strength, military-grade all-aluminum body. This weight reduction will enable Ford’s trucks to go farther on a gallon of gasoline and will open the door to other changes, like smaller engines, that can further boost fuel economy.

The history of aluminum in cars

A growth market today, aluminum has been a key material for automakers since the beginning. The first sports car featuring an aluminum body was unveiled at the Berlin International Motor Show in 1899. Two years later, the first engine with aluminum parts was developed by Carl Benz.Following World War II, aluminum had become inexpensive enough to be considered for use in mass-produced vehicles. A breakthrough occurred in 1961, when the British Land Rover company produced V-8 engine blocks made with aluminum cylinders. From there, aluminum automobile parts gained a foothold in wheels and transmission casings and then moved into cylinder heads and suspension joints. This infinitely recyclable metal is now the leading material for use in powertrain and wheel applications and continues to gain market share in hoods, trunks, doors and bumpers—and complete vehicle structures.

Cool Fact: The Clear Choice of Automakers

In 2013, Ford’s President and CEO Alan Mulally sang the praises of automotive aluminum in a number of media interviews surrounding the announcement of the new F-150 truck. Among other comments, Mulally said, “pound for pound, aluminum is stronger and tougher than steel” and “[aluminum] will be the material of choice” for Ford moving forward.

For more information on aluminum’s use in the automotive industry: www.drivealuminum.org.

Aluminum-intensive cars save 44 million tons of CO2 emissions.

Independent studies have confirmed that aluminum has a 20 percent smaller life cycle CO2 footprint than steel. And compared with today’s steel cars, a fleet of aluminum vehicles saves the equivalent of 44 million tons of CO2 emissions. 

News

April 9, 2014
Aluminum Offers Smallest Total Carbon Footprint Among Competing Materials
April 16, 2013
Industry Reveals Results of New Vehicle Design Study at 2013 SAE World Congre