The materials composition of the automobile will change relatively little between now and 2030. The dominant material will still be steel, with aluminum,plastic, and composites making marginal gains. The biggest materials shift will be the displacement of mild steels with high strength steel grades.
The United States government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards have become a global reference point for steelmakers. They also constitute a tipping point for a new kind of materials competition for the industry.
The first challenge for steelmakers is the internal challenge of keeping up with the accelerated pace of technical innovation. The second major challenge will be to the autosteel customer base, the auto supply chain. Only a limited number of current customers are able to effectively deploy and apply new high endsteels. Most of the auto supply chain is comprised of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with limited capital, human resources, and technicalcapacities.
The CAFE standards apply to new passenger cars and light-duty trucks for model years 2012 through 2025. A mid-term review of the 2022–2025 standards is in process and will be finished by 2018 at the latest. The initial determination, supporting the policy, was released in late November 2016. Assuming thefleet mix remains unchanged, the standards require vehicles to meet a combined average fuel economy of 34.1 miles per gallon (mpg) in model year 2016, and 49.1 mpg in model year 2025. The new fuel efficiency targets have turned lightweighting into the overwhelming goal for autosteel.
There are two redesign cycles left before 2025. Given the accelerating pace of software development and improved materials, it is reasonable that each of these redesign cycles should achieve at least a 5% weight reduction. Overall, about a 15% weight reduction should be feasible by 2025.
Traditionally, autosteel design parameters were based on 2G: gauge and grade. The future is 3G: geometry, gauge and grade. Academics talk about a shift from traditional Design for Manufacturing to Manufacturing for Design in the new stage of advanced materials competition.
Most of the auto supply chain is comprised of SMEs. Overcoming the challenges of change for such companies will require new perspectives, new partners, and new public policies. For both steel companies and automotive OEMs, future success will critically depend on raising the game of the SME supplier base. The autosteel issue, however, is more in the nature of a “network failure.”
More explicitly collaborative “network” forms are functionally superior, especially where some combination of unstable demand, rapidly changing knowledge, and/or complex interdependencies between component technologies is present. The industrial economics lesson is that realization of value will be less and less correlated to the original site of production.