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The Increasing Use

of Aluminium:
Prospects and Implications


John Hartley

November 1996
Copyright and Legal Notice

The views expressed in this study do not necessarily reflect those of the
European Commission (EC).

IPTS retains copyright, but reproduction is authorised provided the

source is mentioned: neither the European Commission nor any person
acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the use which
might be made of the following information.
Background to the report:

For IPTS, this report has complemented its activities that have looked at the technological
solution to transport problems and which have examined transport telematics, recycling
technologies and power source technologies apart from its own work on new materials.

Mr John Hartley, who was invited by the European Commission Joint Research Centre’s
Institute for Prospective Technological Studies to carry out this study, has been reporting on the
automotive industry for over twenty years and has an international reputation as a technical
writer. Apart from this he has engineering training and has also worked for Ford Advanced

The report delivers detailed information on the current and prospective use of aluminium and its
alloys in the automotive sector. The use of materials within this area is at a crossroads, regarding
the need for lighter vehicles and reduced fuel consumption, while still ensuring safety. The need
to understand the demands of such an industry and how it has developed strategies to adopt
aluminium are examined. The report also provides information on the providers and provision of
the raw material, its socio-economic impact, environmental aspects, technological bottlenecks,
Europe’s strategic position within this area as well as forecasts for its use within the sector

J. R. Naegele, T. S. Amorelli
IPTS, Seville

Summary of the report ii

1. The move to reduce weight 1

2. Availability of raw materials 4

3. The advantages of aluminium and its by-products 11

4. Current applications 26

5. Emerging technologies and applications 28

6. Production and experimental aluminium vehicles 40

7. The environmental impact of greater use of aluminium 60

8. The social implications 69

9. Suppliers need to change to remain competitive 73

10. The main markets for cars and growth potential 81

11. Forecast for growth in the use of aluminium 85

12. The suppliers of primary aluminium and aluminium components 90

Appendix: Possible recommendations for help to industry 106

Summary of the report

The automotive industry is increasing its use of aluminium and other materials offering weight
reduction. This report assesses the current situation, and discusses trends in the use of aluminium
and the implication of these trends on the industry, suppliers of components, the environment,
society and the availability of raw materials.

To reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, car manufacturers need to reduce weight
because the combination of improved specifications and legislation is leading to the weight of
cars increasing by about 1% each year - or 4-5% each time a new model is introduced. To make a
significant reduction in weight, materials with low densities must be used instead of steel and
cast iron.

Aluminium favoured
Aluminium is the material being adopted for most projects aimed at reducing weight for many
reasons. First there is an abundant supply of the raw material, and there are mining and
processing facilities in many different areas of the world. Secondly, owing to the large number of
countries where aluminium is produced, political instability in some regions is unlikely to affect
supply. Thirdly, aluminium is already in use in large quantities, and is a well-proven engineering
material. In addition, because the automotive industry currently absorbs a relatively small
proportion of the amount of aluminium produced, its increasing use will not present the
aluminium industry with capacity problems, rather with opportunities. Although bottlenecks may
appear from time to time, sufficient supplies of aluminium will be available to meet the increased

Light weight with adequate stiffness

Aluminium has an excellent combination of weight and stiffness, and can be converted by many
different processes into products. It can be:

• Supplied as plate or sheet and subsequently formed to shape;

• Produced in a superplastic form that can be vacuum-formed to shape at low temperatures;
• Produced as film;
• Forged and extruded;
• Cast into intricate shapes by several different methods, suitable for all volumes of
• Be reinforced with ceramics to produce materials with greater resistance to wear and high

Aluminium is extremely resistant corrosion, and the bare metal can be stored out of doors
without corroding. It can be recycled easily at low cost - indeed, almost all scrap aluminium,
except that used in packaging, is recycled already.

Structures with the same stiffness and half of the weight of steel can be produced, offering
substantial weight savings. Other materials, such as magnesium, carbon fibre composites and
injection moulded plastics do offer some competition to aluminium. For example, intricate large
castings of excellent quality can be produced from magnesium. In some cases, the weight saving
is greater than that of aluminium, but the cost is higher, and magnesium is less readily available.

Carbon fibre composites offer greater stiffness for the same weight as aluminium, but the
material is very expensive, and the production process is not suitable for high rates of production.
Injection mouldings are not stiff, and so cannot be used for structures or even for the horizontal
panels of a car, such as the bonnet and roof, without reinforcement. They are suitable for vertical
external body panels, however.

Magnesium will be used in some applications, while plastic external panels will be used
increasingly in the future, but for most applications aluminium is the preferred material as the
automotive industry moves to reduce weight.

Current applications of aluminium on passenger cars include almost all cylinder heads and
transmission casings, about 20% of cylinder blocks for petrol engines, many coolant radiators
and other heat exchangers, minor covers and housings, a few suspension components, and
wheels. Aluminium components tend to be used on the more expensive cars, because it is a more
expensive material than steel or cast iron.

Europeans switch to aluminium for cylinder blocks

The European industry has embarked on a programme of replacing cast iron cylinder blocks with
aluminium, and this programme is spreading through the volume manufacturers. By 2000, about
40% of cylinder blocks of petrol engines are expected to be cast aluminium, and by 2005
substantial numbers of aluminium cylinder blocks will be produced for diesel engines as well.

This trend, and that to the adoption of aluminium suspension components, depends largely on the
development of improved methods of casting. Therefore, in parallel with the increased use of
aluminium for cylinder blocks is the adoption of aluminium for suspension sub-frames, hub
carriers and suspension links.

New methods of body construction for aluminium

However, the most significant change in the situation regarding aluminium are the new methods
that have been developed to produce body structures in aluminium. There are basically two

1. The use of a unitary construction body, with the main panels either welded and bonded or
riveted and bonded together. This method requires less fixings than normal, and results in
increased stiffness and reduced vibration level.

2. The adoption of a frame consisting of aluminium extrusions clad with panels of aluminium,
or a mixture of aluminium and other materials - such as plastics for the skin panels. In the
process developed by Alcoa and adopted by Audi fro the A8, the extrusions are joined
together by thin-wall, ductile castings. The frame is then welded together, and pressings are
used for the floor and bulkheads and for the external panels. The structure is also stiffer than
a steel one, and has improved energy absorption characteristics.

Unitary construction is preferred by for high volume manufacture, and Ford of the USA plans to
adopt it. This approach is suitable for large volumes of over 300,000 a year, whereas the frame
clad with panels is ideal for the sort of volumes typical in Europe - from a few hundred a year to
over 100,000. For this reason, frame and panel construction is likely to be used widely in Europe.
One of the main advantages of the frame-and-panel construction is that the tooling cost for the
complete body and structure is about one-third of that of a unitary construction car. This allows

manufacturers to build a wider range of products, and more easily match the requirements of
customers. With the combination of a frame consisting of extrusions only clad in a plastics body,
the tooling cost can be reduced even further.

In the light of this trend to greater use, it is important that the changes should not affect the
environment adversely. There is always some degradation of the earth with mining, but mines for
bauxite, the raw material for aluminium, are generally well controlled, and are re-vegetated when
the mine is closed. During the subsequent processes, pollution is low and controlled with
existing technology. The production of aluminium components is a cleaner process than is used
for steel or cast iron.

Whole-life energy costs favour aluminium

When whole-life energy costs are taken into account - the energy required in manufacture and to
move the car around for 150,000km - the higher energy cost required to produce aluminium is
recouped by society because cars with aluminium bodies and other components use less fuel than
those with steel bodies. For example, a car with an aluminium body and a few other aluminium
components uses 448,500MJ over its life, compared with 496,000MJ for a steel car. CO2
emissions are also lower over the life of the vehicle. Moreover, when aluminium is recycled,
only about 5% of the energy required in the production of the primary aluminium is consumed.
Therefore, aluminium is ideal for recycling - indeed, large quantities of aluminium beverage cans
are recycled annually.

Most of the processes involved in the production of aluminium components, such as casting,
offer workers improved conditions compared with iron and steel. In addition, some of the new
processes coming into use with aluminium structures, such as self-piercing rivets and adhesives
are quiet, while the sparks and small metallic particles discharged in welding shops are absent.

Owing to the need for the European automotive industry to improve productivity to remain
competitive, there is an inevitable trend to fewer people being employed in all processes in car
production. In addition, of course, as aluminium cylinder blocks replace those of cast iron, some
jobs will be lost in iron foundries, and indeed, some iron foundries may close down. On the other
hand, job opportunities will increase in the aluminium foundry industry.

The switch to aluminium structures will also bring in its wake a reduction in the total number of
jobs. However, these changes give the European industry the opportunity to increase
competitiveness and therefore increase sales and employment at least enough to balance the
losses in employment through the use of more efficient processes.

At the same time, suppliers need to change their methods to remain competitive and retain
business in this changing situation. The trend is for the car manufacturers to ask suppliers to
become involved in projects from the start, to carry out more R&D and to develop modules and
systems for them. In some cases, they are asking suppliers to produce components and
assemblies they have made in-house until now. Also, Just-in-Time deliveries are required
increasingly by car manufacturers.

Companies that wish to supply aluminium components and sub-assemblies to the car companies
will be expected to invest in facilities that are tailored to the requirements of one customer. For
example, Alcoa invested 75m ECU in a plant that produces castings and machines and forms

extrusions for the Audi A8, and VAW Motor has built a completely new foundry dedicated to the
production of aluminium cylinder blocks and heads for Ford.

Growth in car sales

Although Eastern Europe, the newly developed nations and especially the Pacific Rim are
experiencing high growth in car sales, it is from a low base. Therefore, in terms of the number of
extra units to be sold, Europe, North America and Japan remain the best markets for cars in
general, and for aluminium-intensive cars over the next five years. In the next century, the Pacific
Rim may offer better growth potential.

In the light of the trend to greater use of aluminium and the growth in car sales, use by the
automotive industry in Europe, North America and Japan will increase substantially, with Korea
leading the other manufacturing countries. Growth is already under way in cylinder blocks, while
suspension components are following. It is forecast that the number of aluminium cylinder
blocks produced in Europe will increase from about 1.7m in 1995 to over 4.0m in 2000.

The use of aluminium structures for cars has only just started, and will increase fairly slowly over
the next three years, but more quickly after that. Naturally, it is starting at the top end of the
market, and gradually moving downward. By 2000, over 300,000 cars with aluminium structures
are likely to be produced annually in Europe.

These changes will result in a big increase in aluminium consumption by the industry, but the
increase of about 750,000 tonnes of virgin aluminium by 2000, is well within the capacity of the
industry. The growth in demand is less than might be expected because the car industry uses, and
will continue to use, substantial amounts of secondary, or recycled, aluminium.

In the last section of the report is a summary of the major suppliers of primary aluminium and
some of the suppliers of aluminium components, such as castings.


The move to reduce weight

Vehicle manufacturers have long recognised the advantage of reduced weight in improving fuel
consumption and performance, but over the past decade much of the emphasis has been on more
power, increased interior space, refinement and comfort. Therefore, the size of cars has tended to
increase, and larger engines have been installed - for example, in 1985 a typical small car would
have had an engine of 1.0 litres, and now its successor has an engine of 1.3 litres; the 1.5-1.6 litre
car has been replaced by the 1.8-2.0 litre car.

With larger engines and bigger bodies, the cars have inevitably increased in weight. The trend to
greater refinement, with lower noise and vibration levels has compounded the trend, leading to the
use of more sound deadening material and complex engine and suspension mounts. Extra
equipment, all of which increases weight, has been added to all cars. A good example is electrically
operated windows, found initially on the most expensive cars only, but now common on even the
smallest cars.

Legislation leads to greater weight

In addition, increasingly severe air pollution and safety regulations have resulted in greater weight.
For example, to improve crash performance, and to prevent the occupants sliding forward beneath
the seat belts on impact, more substantial body structures and seat frames have been introduced,
and seat belts are equipped with pretensioners. Now, side door beams are installed in almost all cars
sold in Europe as well. Air bags are fitted to the steering wheel of most cars for the driver, while the
number of cars to which passenger-side air bags are fitted is increasing steadily.

Other features that are cascading down the price range are ABS (anti-lock brake systems), power
assisted steering and air conditioning. In the next few years, navigation and information systems
will be introduced on a significant number of cars, thus increasing weight again.

In this situation, most car manufacturers now see reduced weight as a priority, partly to offset the
increased equipment levels, but also to reduce fuel consumption, CO2 and other emissions. Reduced
weight also offers improved acceleration, and thus gives the manufacturer competitive edge - very
important with the increased competition not just from Japan, but also from Korea and Malaysia.

Audi A8 a trend-setter

The Audi A8, which has an all-aluminium body structure, has become the trend-setter in the luxury
car market, and was one of the factors that led Toyota to make efforts to reduce the weight of the
revised Lexus LS400 compared with the preceding model. BMW also reduced the weight of the
new 5 Series models with the use of aluminium suspension components. Unlike most of its
competitors, BMW has been able to reduce the weight of the new 5 Series by 35 kg, a reduction of
2.5%, despite the fact that the body weighs slightly more than the old one.

The move by BMW is not surprising because the German car manufacturers are committed to
reduce fuel consumption by 25% between 1995 and 2005, and significant weight reduction will be
required to do so. Many studies confirm the relationship between weight and fuel consumption, and

engineers involved in attempts to develop cars with a fuel consumption of 3 l/100km, which some
politicians have called for, show that the only way such a target can be reached is with drastic
weight reduction.

Cars still getting heavier

Over the past decade the weights of most cars have increased significantly, and two good examples
are the Ford Fiesta, a small car which has been developed progressively since 1976, and the Opel
Vectra, which is a typical family saloon in one the largest selling sectors in Europe.

Table 1.1

Weights of Ford Fiesta and Opel Vectra, 1987-1995, kg

Model Ford Fiesta Opel Vectra

1987 775 1,064
1993 793 1,161
1995 940 1,277

Source: Manufacturers

The increase in the weight of the Fiesta reflects the fact that Ford is moving the car upmarket
slightly, to leave space for another model below it. However, in seven years, the weight of the Fiesta
has increased by 21%, and that of the Vectra by 20%. The trend to increased weight is found in
almost all cars; for example, the weight of the VW Golf increased from 900kg in 1980 to 1,010kg in
1986, and 1,160kg in 1992. Over the same period, the weight of the BMW 320 has increased from
1,080kg to 1,100kg and now to 1,280kg.

In North America, studies indicate that the weight of passenger cars is increasing by 1.2% a year, or
6% every five years, which is the usual interval between new models.

These changes have led to an increase in fuel consumption, and the trend can be reversed only with
changes to design and the use of different materials.

Reduced weight improves fuel consumption

With mixed types of driving, research indicates that a weight reduction of 10% reduces fuel
consumption by about 6%; 15% brings a reduction in consumption of about 9%, and a weight
reduction of 20% could reduce consumption by 10-12%. Some engineers believe that with
optimised design, which may include a reduction in absolute performance, the percentage saved can
equal the percentage weight reduction. Should the weights of the next versions of the Ford Fiesta
and Opel Vectra be reduced to those of the 1987 models, the fuel consumption would improve by
about 10%.

Once an ultra-lightweight structure is adopted, a lighter and smaller engine and transmission can be
adopted as well, so weight is reduced further. In addition, the size of the engine compartment is
reduced, so that increased passenger space can be provided within the same overall dimensions.
Other components, such as brakes and suspension components can also be reduced in size.

Therefore, if the weight of the structure can be reduced so that overall vehicle weight is reduced by
10%, the reduction in weight of other units can increase total weight reduction by 16-18%. This
aspect of weight reduction, and its effect on whole-life costs is discussed in Chapter Six.

Because lighter cars consume less fuel than larger ones - irrespective of the type of power unit used
- they emit less CO2, and generally emissions are lower. In addition, performance is improved so
there are considerable benefits to the manufacturer and consumer in the production of lightweight
cars, apart from advantages in recycling and whole-life costs.

Another important advantage of the widespread use of lightweight bodies would be that the amount
of metal shipped between metal producers and car body plants would be reduced by more than 50%,
with a dramatic improvement in the wear rate of some major roads.

Radical use of aluminium reverses trend

To reduce the weight of the vehicle structure significantly, a metal such as aluminium or
magnesium, or carbon fibre composites must be used. Optimised steel bodies do reduce weight, but
not enough to make a significant difference to the car - and a significant improvement is needed to
ensure that European car manufacturers remain competitive.

Aluminium is the only alternative material that offers substantial weight reduction - up to 50% in
the vehicle structure - that is plentiful and available at a realistic price. There is an abundance of the
raw materials required for its production, and it is produced in many countries in the world. Primary
aluminium can be converted into castings and forgings; it can be extruded and supplied as sheet
suitable to pressing, or as foil. It can be recycled easily, with little energy consumption, and indeed,
aluminium that has been in use for ten to 15 years is routinely recycled to produce metal that has the
same properties as new metal.

Owing to its low density, the stiffness and strength of aluminium is excellent for many applications,
particularly structures, and it has excellent resistance to corrosion. Therefore, the lives of aluminium
components are generally longer than those of steel components.

Honda showed the way

Honda pioneered the use of aluminium structures with its NSX super sports car, of which not only
the structure but also almost all chassis components are made from aluminium, and Audi followed
suit with the A8, but with a new type of structure. In both cases, the weight of the body was reduced
by 40%. Audi’s success with the A8 is evidence that radical design approaches pay off.

Owing to the benefits of light weight, these two cars are not isolated cases, but the beginning of
trend that will continue for many years. However, because aluminium is more expensive than steel,
all-aluminium bodies will remain in the minority for some years to come, but the trend to increased
use is well established. This report explains the significance of this trend to the automotive industry,
the environment and society.


Availability of raw materials

Bauxite - the ore from which aluminium is produced - iron ore, the raw material for iron and steel,
and magnesium are all abundantly available in the earth’s crust. However, aluminium is the most
abundant, since bauxite accounts for 8% of the world’s crust down to a depth of 1km, while iron ore
accounts for 5%. Magnesium accounts for 2% of the earth’s crust, and also for 0.1% of the seas,
which of course cover more of the earth than land. Therefore, the long term supply of all these
materials is assured, and they are spread around the world well enough to prevent local wars or
embargoes affecting supplies substantially.

Australia, Brazil, Guinea and Jamaica hold almost 70% of known reserves. There are also
substantial reserves elsewhere, so supplies are likely to remain available continuously. There is an
association of bauxite producing countries, the International Bauxite Association, but since
Australia, Brazil and Jamaica are not members, the Association is unable to control the rate of
extraction or prices in the way that OPEC attempts to do with oil. In any case, many producers of
primary aluminium control bauxite mines.

Table 2.1

World reserves of bauxite, million tonnes, %

Country Reserves, m Proportion, %

Australia 5,610 24
Brazil 2,800 12
Cameroon 680 3
China 400 1.7
Ghana 450 2
Greece 600 2.6
Guinea 5,600 24
Guyana 700 3
Hungary 300 1.3
India 1,000 4.3
Indonesia 750 3.3
Jamaica 2,000 8.7
Sierra Leone 140 0.6
Surinam 575 2.5
USA 29 0.1
Former USSR 300 1.3
Venezuela 320 1.4
Former Yugoslavia 350 1.5
Total 23,000 100

Source: Mineral Handbook, 1994-5, Phillip Crowson

Once the bauxite has been mined, there are two stages in the production of aluminium: first there is
the production of aluminium oxide, and then the production of aluminium from the aluminium
oxide by electrolysis. For each 1,000kg of bauxite, about 500kg aluminium oxide are produced, and
in turn this produces about 250kg of aluminium.

Price of aluminium increased sharply after energy crisis

Following the energy crisis in 1973-4, the rapid increase in the price of energy led to the price of
aluminium increasing drastically, and it became dubbed an "energy-intensive" material. It is true
that a substantial amount of energy is required in the electrolysis process, and that up until the mid
1970s there were some very inefficient old smelters in operation. Now, most smelters in the western
world are fairly efficient, with energy consumption of about 15kWh for 1kg of aluminium produced.
Many smelters rely on hydro-electric energy, so energy costs are not excessive, while efforts are
made continuously to reduce production costs.

There are about 12 major producing nations of aluminium, and about 40 countries have smelters,
although some are very small. The largest producers are in the industrialised nations, but some
countries, notably Bahrain and India, are building substantial aluminium industries.

Table 2.2

Major producers of aluminium with output in 1993, ’000 tonnes

Nation Output, 1993

Australia 1,345
Bahrain 450
Brazil 1,200
Canada 2,250
China 1,220
France 426
Germany 552
Norway 888
Russia 2,900
USA 3,690
Venezuela 570

Source: Metal Statistics 1995, American Metal Market

From 1988 to 1991, primary aluminium production in the western world increased steadily from
about 14m tonnes to about 15m tonnes. However, in 1992 the aluminium industry was thrown into
turmoil by a sudden increase in exports of aluminium by the Combined Independent States (CIS) or
the former Soviet Union. The exports continued to increase until the aluminium industry decided
action was required.

Table 2.3

Other nations producing aluminium

Production, 1993,
Nation ’000 tonnes
Argentina 165
Azerbaijan 20
Dubai 225
Egypt 177
Ghana 175
Greece 145
Hungary 28
Iceland 91
India 435
Indonesia 180
Iran 100
Italy 170
Japan 18
Mexico 26
Netherlands 229
New Zealand 268
Poland 47
Romania 112
Slovakia 60
Slovenia 80
South Africa 175
Spain 355
Surinam 30
Sweden 82
Switzerland 45
Ukraine 90
UK 235

Source: Metal Statistics 1995, American Metal Market

Memorandum of Understanding cut output in 1994-5

In the event, a Memorandum of Understanding(MoU) was signed in early 1994 as a response to the
exports from the CIS. Exports rose from less than 400,000 tonnes a year in 1989 to about two
million tonnes in 1993-4, which led to a collapse in the price of aluminium to just over $1,000
(545ECU)/tonne. As a result, the largest aluminium producing states in the West - Australia,
Canada, the EU, Norway, the USA - agreed cuts in output which involved the Russians. The
western nations agreed to idle 900,000 tonnes of annual capacity - 300,000 tonnes by Alcoa - while
Russia agreed to reduce capacity by 500,000 tonnes.

Table 2.4

Balance of production and demand in the Western world for aluminium, 1990-5, million

Year Production Demand Imports from CIS

1990 14.5 14.7 0.25
1991 15 14.9 1.0
1992 14.9 15.2 0.9
1993 15 15.5 2.0
1994 14.4 17.2 2.1
1995 14.7 17.9 2.0-2.5

Source: Alcan and industry

The results of the MoU and the idling of capacity was dramatic; the price of aluminium increased
rapidly, partly as a result of speculation, to about $2,000(1,090ECU)/tonne, and then fell back to
around $1,600 (870ECU). One reason for the sharp rise in prices was that speculators believed,
rightly, that the aluminium producers would stick to their agreement, and another was that demand
started to increase - the reduction in output was made just as economies were starting to expand in
the USA and Europe.

Although there are adequate production facilities around the world to produce the world’s
requirements for aluminium, the MoU and the expected increase in demand from the automotive
industry led to speculation that supply might not match demand in the future. This has proved

There is no long-term danger to the supply of aluminium. In 1994, the industry operated at 81% of
capacity, and in 1995 at 91%. There is currently about 1.0m tonnes of idle capacity in North
America, and about 600,000 tonnes elsewhere. In addition, Alusaf has just started to operate a new
smelter with capacity of 466,000 tonnes a year in South Africa, and output is now reaching capacity.
By 1998, an extra 1.0-1.5m tonnes of capacity are due to come on stream.

However, although there are adequate supplies of bauxite, mostly controlled by the aluminium
companies, as output expands, there are likely to be occasional bottlenecks, and this is true of all
products. For example, according to the Spector Report, an aluminium industry newsletter, there
could be a shortage of calcined petroleum coke as output of aluminium increases. The Russian
smelters are almost certain to face shortages of calcined petroleum coke in 1996-7 because they
import substantial quantities, and with the price rising, will have difficulty in competing with
Western smelters for the material.

If all the available Western capacity is brought on stream during 1996, then a shortage is likely. A
more gradual return to use of idled capacity might avoid shortages, but will not prevent the price
increasing further - it doubled to about $240 (130ECU) a tonne in 1995. Conoco is one of the
companies investing in more capacity at its Humber refinery in the UK, but the extra capacity will
not be available until 1997-8. Therefore, the aluminium industry may not be able to increase output
as quickly as it would like in the next two years, and the price of aluminium could be more volatile
than expected.

Table 2.5

Aluminium production by region, 1994, in millions of tonnes

North America 5.55

Europe 3.96
C.I.S. 3.30
Latin America 1.97
Asia 1.58
Oceania 1.58
Africa 0.58
Total 18.50

Source: Metal Statistics 1995, American Metal Market

There are some doubts about the strength of the aluminium smelters in Russia. Some industry
observers suggest that Russia will remain an exporter of about 2.0m tonnes a year for the
foreseeable future, and that technology agreements for upgrading, usually with some form of
financial involvement, with Western aluminium companies will improve efficiency. Others suggest
that owing to the high cost of energy, and the inefficiency and lack of capital in the business,
exports will not be sustained. Shortages of aluminium oxide and calcined petroleum coke are likely
to hinder output in the next two years. Short of severe political unrest - never far away in Russia - it
seems improbable that the industry will be allowed to collapse. There will be temporary upsets in
supply, however.

Demand to grow in excess of GNPs

Against this trend to increased capacity, it is clear that apart from any drastic changes in the
automotive industry, demand for aluminium is growing, and will continue to grow, usually at a rate
slightly above the rise in GNP for the western world. Between 1995 and 2000, growth is likely to
average 4%, and between 2000 and 2005 at a slightly higher rate.

Table 2.6

Forecast for balance between supply and demand for aluminium, 1995-2000, million tonnes

Year Supply Demand

1995 16.5 17.9
1996 17.5 18.4
1997 18.5 19.0
1998 19.5 19.75
1999 20.5 20.5
2000 20.5 21.4

This forecast, based on growth of 3-4%,shows that with the return of idle capacity and the operation
of new smelters already planned, there should be a surplus of capacity until 1997-8, and that supply
and demand should remain in balance until 2000.

Recycled aluminium reduces net demand

In practice, since the proportion of aluminium recycled is increasing, Alcan is one company that
expects a growth in supply of 2.6% per annum to match an increase in demand of almost 4%, the
shortfall begin taken up by recycled aluminium.

Nevertheless, now that exports from the CIS are being absorbed by the West, a complete cessation
of exports would put pressure on prices, but otherwise, prices should remain fairly stable. As shown
in the Tables 2.2 and 2.3, aluminium is produced in a large number of countries, so that, apart from
the CIS, political disturbances are unlikely to affect the overall supply situation.

Between 2000 and 2005 the automotive industry will increase its use of aluminium substantially, so
the growth rate will accelerate slightly, and to meet that demand, extra aluminium capacity would
seem to be required. Once again, the increase in recycling will reduce the amount of capacity
required, and in any case since the aluminium companies receive long-term planning information
from the car makers, there is no reason for any supply problems to occur.

Volatile prices disturb users

All users of aluminium are disturbed by the volatility of the price of aluminium, but none more so
than the automotive industry. The car makers seek stability of supply and pricing from all their
suppliers, and expect them to improve productivity so that increases in the cost of raw materials can
be absorbed, and indeed, they also ask for continuous reductions in cost.

However, the price of primary aluminium is dictated by the contract price of the London Metal
Exchange (LME) which is influenced not only by real demand and hedging by buyers, but also by
the actions of speculators. Prices of scrap and secondary aluminium tend to follow the LME prices,
and so the overall situation is more volatile than the industry would wish. The car makers would
like to establish long-term pricing agreements on prices for themselves and their principal suppliers,
but to date they and their suppliers have been unable to agree a system that will function in such an
erratic market. There appears to be no solution to this situation other than the purchase of forward
and spot supplies to ease out the peaks and troughs. However, the problem is not sufficiently serious
to warrant avoidance of the use of aluminium as a material.

Table 2.7

Prices of aluminium, 1993-5

LME Aluminium Old cast

price cuttings scrap
1993 January 1,230 864 640
April 1,126 885 765
July 1,225 825 698
October 1,098 780 765
1994 January 1,110 855 1,005
April 1,285 1,155 1,058
July 1,472 1,170 1,163
October 1,589 1,271 1,380

1995 January 1,976 1,504 1,480
April 1,861 1,664 1,312
July 1,793 1,536 1,208
October 1,758 1,550 1,093

Source: OEA

As can be seen, the prices increased considerably in 1993 and 1994, and subsided in 1995. Also, the
price of old cast scrap exceeded the price of pure aluminium cuttings on occasion.

Magnesium and plastics compete with aluminium

The principal materials competing with aluminium are magnesium and plastics. Magnesium is
much more expensive than aluminium, as is discussed in Chapter Three, and is produced in much
small quantities. Also, it is more prone to corrosion. Thermoplastics are also a serious challenger for
lightly stressed components such as panels for doors and wings, but not for structures, while carbon
fibre composites are too expensive.

Plastics dependent on oil

Plastics are produced from crude oil. Although relatively small amounts of oil are required for
petrochemical feedstock - usually gas or naphtha - compared with that used as fuel, their availability
depends on the oil and gas industry. For sufficient feedstock to be available, the oil refineries need
to maintain a suitable balance between refinery products, while petrochemical companies need to be
flexible enough to use either of the main feedstocks. There is, of course, a huge variety of plastics
available, and now that more emphasis is being placed on recycling, the car manufacturers are
rationalising the range of materials they use.

Owing to their abundance, iron, steel, aluminium and magnesium are strategically excellent
materials. Aluminium is in many respects the best material. Its advantages are:

Its raw material, bauxite, is abundant in different regions of the world;

It has a low density, yet is strong and stiff;
It can be processed in many ways, such as forging, extrusion, casting, and to produce sheet, plate
and film for different products;
It can be protected easily from corrosion;
It can be recycled easily and at low cost.

Plastics will also remain freely available for the foreseeable future, and owing to their ease of
processing and diverse qualities will be used increasingly by the automotive industry, particularly
for vertical external panels.


The advantages of aluminium and its by-products

For engineering products, materials with high strength and stiffness, and long fatigue life are
required. In addition, cost is of paramount importance, and traditionally manufacturers have selected
the cheapest materials offering suitable characteristics - steel and cast iron in the case of the
automotive industry. However, light weight is an advantage in cars because most of the energy is
consumed in acceleration, and so the ideal material would have high strength, be very stiff, have a
long fatigue life, a low density, and be inexpensive. Lightweight materials such as aluminium are
therefore used more in the construction of High-performance cars than in family saloons.

Since different materials have different characteristics, they are chosen according to the
applications. For example, high strength and fatigue life are essential for components such as
crankshafts, connecting rods, gear shafts, drive shafts and stub shafts, so these are made from steel
alloys. Some very highly stressed components, such as the thin belts in the Van Doorne’s
continuously variable transmission, are made from maraging steel, the strongest commercially
available steel. Where high performance is placed as the top priority, irrespective of cost, titanium is
used for components such as connecting rods, owing to its great strength and light weight. Likewise,
carbon fibre composites, which are very stiff but have low density, are used for structures where
cost is not important - as on racing cars.

Another important feature is that the material should stretch before it fractures. This resilience or
ductility is important in absorbing energy on impact, such as in a crash, but also in providing the
material with predictable characteristics. Materials that splinter or shatter on impact are unsuitable
for most automotive applications. In reducing weight, however, low density is of paramount

Table 3.1

Densities of selected materials compared with steel

Steel 1.00
Aluminium alloys 0.34
Magnesium alloys 0.23
Titanium alloys 0.58
Silicon carbide 0.36
Carbon fibre reinforced plastics 0.22
Glass fibre reinforced plastics 0.25
Nylon 0.14
Polycarbonate 0.15
Polypropylene 0.09

If light weight were the sole consideration, steel would be used only for the highly-stressed
components mentioned above, while aluminium and magnesium would be the preferred metals, and
many components would be made from plastics. In many cases it not the density alone that is
important, but the stiffness related to density, particularly in the design of structures such as engine
cylinder blocks, transmission housings, brake callipers and body structures. The requirements of

high stiffness and low weight alter the merits of different materials. The stiffness/weight ratio is a
good measure for the potential for weight reduction.

Stiffness depends on modulus of elasticity and thickness

The stiffness of a sheet in bending is proportional to Young’s modulus of elasticity (E) and the
thickness (t) of the panel cubed (Et3). The Young’s modulus of aluminium is about one-third that of
steel - 71GPa against 210GPa.

For equal stiffness:

ta3 = (210 x ts3)/71 = 2.95
Therefore, ta = 1.44ts

where ta is the thickness of aluminium and ts is the thickness of steel. For equal stiffness for
structural components such as cylinder blocks and car bodies, the aluminium walls need to be 1.44
times those of steel. Since the density of aluminium is one-third that of steel, an aluminium
structure of the same stiffness as one of steel weighs about 50% as much.

Table 3.2

Weights for equal stiffness of selected engineering materials

Material Relative Thickness for Weight for

density equal stiffness equal stiffness

Steel 1.00 1.00 1.00

Cast iron 1.01 1.025 1.03
Aluminium alloys 0.34 1.44 0.49
Magnesium 0.23 1.68 0.39
Titanium 0.58 1.21 0.70
Zinc 0.85 1.38 1.18
Silicon carbide 0.36 0.82 0.30
Nylon 66 0.14 4.25 0.61
Polypropylene 0.11 4.90 0.56
GFRP 0.25 1.67 0.42
CFRP 0.22 1.02 0.22

GFRP is glass reinforced plastic

CFRP is carbon reinforced plastic

As Table 3.2 shows, aluminium, magnesium, titanium, silicon carbide, and plastics offer advantages
over steel in various applications. However, ceramics such as silicon carbide are very brittle, and so
have limited potential applications - in gas turbine engines for example and some small engine
components - whereas aluminium and magnesium are the metals offering the most potential for
weight reduction.

Ceramics and carbon fibre have limited applications

Also, ceramics are expensive and difficult to form precisely and also expensive to machine. For this
reason it is not a mainstream material, and although it has potential in some applications is not
likely to be used widely in vehicles. Carbon fibre is also extremely expensive, and its use is
currently limited to aerospace applications, racing cars, and some leisure products where price is

unimportant. It can be used to reinforce glass fibre reinforced products locally to provide extra
stiffness, but despite its obvious benefits is not likely to come into general use for at least a decade.

Nevertheless, carbon fibre reinforced plastics are used where stiffness is essential and high cost is
not relevant, as in the body structures of racing cars - for the same weight they are five times as stiff
as steel and twice as stiff as aluminium. Since it is not practical to form carbon fibre reinforced
composites as thinly as steel or aluminium, these mouldings are usually very stiff, but more
expensive than is theoretically required.

Thermoplastics suitable where stiffness not required

On the other hand, most conventional plastics are suitable only where stiffness is not critical, or
where they can be reinforced with glass or other materials. Suitable applications include: covers of
engines, door panels and wing panels on cars. With extra reinforcements, they can also be used as
bonnets, boot lids and tailgates and door assemblies.

Aluminium preferred route to light weight

For structural applications in the automotive industry, the three criteria are cost, stiffness and
weight. In any programme aimed at reducing weight, the advantages of aluminium are clear. It costs
about twice as much as steel, whereas magnesium costs four times as much, and titanium 35 times
as much. Thermoplastics are also more expensive where equivalent stiffness is concerned, but as
mentioned earlier, for applications such as the detachable panels of cars, where stiffness is not
required, costs are acceptable.

The costs in Table 3.3 are of the raw material or the alloy, and do not take into account the cost of
processing the material. Because thermoplastics panels are injection moulded, processing costs are
low whereas aluminium must first be converted to sheet, and then pressed to shape and treated prior
to painting.

Table 3.3

Cost of materials of equal stiffness

Material Thickness Weight for equal stiffness Cost for equal stiffness
Sheet steel 1.00 1.00 1.00
Cast iron 1.03 1.03 0.49
Aluminium 1.44 0.49 1.98
Magnesium 1.69 0.39 4.09
Titanium sheet 1.21 0.70 35.90
Zinc 1.38 1.18 3.36
Nylon 66 4.25 0.61 4.01
Polypropylene 4.90 0.56 1.90
Polycarbonate 4.50 0.68 6.99
ABS/polycarbonate 3.50 0.51 4.08
Noryl GTX 3.50 0.49 5.60
Filled polypropylene 3.50 0.58 6.21
CFRP 1.05 0.22 6.39

Therefore, it can be seen that when the properties of different materials and their costs are taken into
account, aluminium is the preferred material for reducing weight in cars. Another point of some

significance is that car manufacturers are prepared to "buy" performance at a price, so long as the
extra cost gives benefits either to themselves of the customer. Aluminium can be used in ways that
the cost penalty is overcome. This is discussed later.
In practice, aluminium, magnesium, and engineering plastics can reduce weight at realistic cost,
whereas titanium and carbon fibre can do so at higher cost. Carbon fibre does have the potential for
lower costs than at present - perhaps by 2005 - however, as do ceramics.

Principal aluminium alloys

Aluminium alloys have been developed over the years to suit different purposes - casting, pressure
die-casting, forging, extruding and for use as sheet metal. In addition, some alloys are suitable for
heat treatment, and others are not. The homogeneity of the metal improves by mechanical working
such as rolling, forging and extrusion, and as a general rule, the greater strength is obtained with a
reduction in ductility. Alloys which are not heat-treated, sometimes referred to as work-hardening
alloys, obtain their strength principally by alloying.

For castings, the aim over the past decade has been to standardise on relatively few alloys for engine
components, whereas the special requirements of high elongation for suspension components are
leading to the use of a different family of alloys. In addition, there have been many improvements in
the casting processes that improve yield and the mechanical properties of castings.

The alloys used for engine cylinder blocks and heads and other power train components are usually
one of these four ISO alloys:

Al-Si10Cu4Fe, Al-Si5Cu3, Al-Si8Cu3Fe, Al-Si7Mg

Table 3.4
Common aluminium alloys for automotive castings
ISO France Germany Italy UK US Japan
Al-Si10Cu2Fe A-S9U3-Y4 None UNI 5076 LM2 A384 ADC 12
Al-Si5Cu3 A-S5U3 G-AlSi6Cu4* UNI3052 LM4 A319 AC 2A
Al-Si8Cu3Fe A-S9U3A-Y4 G-AlSi8Cu3* UNI5075+ LM24 A380 ADC 10
Al-Si7Mg A-S7G G-AlSi7Mg UNI 3599 LM25 A356 AC 4C
Al-Si7Cu4Mg None None None LM30 A390 None
*G-AlSi8Cu4 was 225, and G-AlSi8Cu3 was 226 +Or UN3601

Table 3.5
Typical compositions of casting alloys, alloying elements, %
Silicon Iron Copper Magne- Manga Nickel Titan- Zinc
sium -nese ium
Al-Si10Cu2Fe 10.00 1.00 1.50 0.30 0.50 0.50 0.20 2.00
Al-Si5Cu3 5.00 0.80 3.00 0.20 0.40 0.30 0.20 0.50
Al-Si8Cu3Fe 8.50 1.30 3.50 0.30 0.50 0.50 0.20 3.00
Al-Si7Mg 7.00 0.50 0.20 0 0.30 0.10 0.20 0.10
Al-Si7Cu4Mg 17.00 1.30 4.50 0.55 0.30 0.10 0.20 0.20

Some alloys are suitable for heat treatment, such as Al-Si7Mg. To improve performance at higher
temperatures, all these alloys contain a significant amount of silicon.

Special alloys for linerless cylinder blocks

Special alloys with 17-22% silicon are used for cylinder blocks in which the pistons run directly in
the aluminium - normally, the pistons run in cast iron liners. Typical of the new alloys developed
principally for the automotive industry is Comalco 3HA, which contains 12-15% silicon, 1.5-5.5%
copper, 0.1-1.0% iron, 0.0-0.8% manganese, and 1.0-3.0% nickel. It has been developed to provide
excellent wear resistance, and so can be used for cylinder blocks without the need for iron cylinder
liners. The material has an eutectic aluminium/silicon microstructure, and the company claims that
the performance is as good as alloys with 17-22% silicon. Owing to the low viscosity of the fluid
metal, it produces sound castings, and is claimed to be machined easily. The stiffness is about 5%
greater than for most alloys, while it has excellent resistance to high temperatures in operation.

Wide use of secondary aluminium in foundries

An important feature of the aluminium foundry industry is that it uses a substantial amount of
secondary or recycled aluminium. The runners and risers that feed the aluminium into the mould
account for about 20-40% of the weight of castings such as cylinder heads, and this is recycled
directly. In addition, there is a substantial industry that recycles casting alloys for foundries, some of
which use secondary alloy for all castings. For example, the largest French foundry, operated by
Citroen at Charleville, uses about 38% primary aluminium, 45% secondary aluminium recycled in-
house, and a further 17% of secondary aluminium bought as ingots.

For this reason, an increase in the use of aluminium for cylinder blocks has a less significant effect
on the supply situation than the increased use of extrusions or sheet, which are currently formed
from primary alloys only.

Different ranges of alloys for sheet and forgings

The basic series of aluminium alloys used for sheet, forgings and extrusions are quite different from
those used for castings, which needs to be taken into account in considering recycling. This situation
is discussed in Chapter Six. The alloys are covered by internationally agreed specifications.

Table 3.6
Designation of aluminium alloys for sheet and forgings
1000 Series Aluminium of 99.0% or greater purity;
2000 Series Alloyed with copper;
3000 Series Alloyed with manganese;
4000 Series Alloyed with silicon;
5000 Series Alloyed with magnesium;
6000 Series Alloyed with magnesium and silicon;
7000 Series Alloyed with zinc;
8000 Series Alloyed with other elements.

There are many alloys in each series, and each is designated by four digits, such as 3051. Heat
treatable alloys are designated by Tx after the digits, where x represents the heat treatment, which
may be indicated by one or more digits; for example, T6 indicates solution heat treated and
artificially aged.

Table 3.7

Typical composition of wrought alloys, alloying elements, %

Copper Iron Magne- Manga- Silicon Titan- Zinc Chrom-

sium nese ium ium

3105 0.30 0.70 0.50 0.50 0.60 0.1 0.40 0.20
5000 (typical) 0.15 0.40 4.50 0.35 0.03 0.00 0 0
5754 0.10 0.35 3.00 0.40 0.35 0.10 0.15 0.25
6016 0.15 0.40 0.40 0.20 1.25 0 0.15 0.05
6111 0.70 0.35 0.75 0.25 0.80 0.10 0.10 0.10
6061 0.25 0.70 1.00 0.15 0.60 0.15 0.25 0.20

Technical developments in materials and systems

Developments in materials and processes have led to the continual improvement in the products of
the automotive industry. Aluminium and magnesium alloys with performance much improved
compared with a decade ago are now available. Under the new disciplines imposed by simultaneous
engineering projects, suppliers of materials, processors, and the automotive industry are working
closely to optimise materials for their use.

Aluminium alloys for pressing and extrusion

To increase the attractiveness of their materials for body panels, the aluminium companies have
produced improved alloys in sheet form. These alloys are more easily pressed and welded than
earlier ones, and have improved resistance to corrosion. Because aluminium alloys are less ductile
than steel, they cannot be formed to such extreme shapes, and in the earlier alloys there was a
tendency for stretcher marks - microscopic lines - to appear on the sheet after pressing. With the
later alloys, the depth to which the alloy can be pressed has been increased slightly, while stretcher
marks have been largely eliminated.

Special versions of the 6000 Series alloys have been developed for extrusion, and these are suitable
for the complex sections of frames for cars. They can be formed to curves, welded together, and
provide good absorption of energy. In addition, special ductile casting alloys and casting methods
have been devised to produce thin-wall castings for use in vehicle structures.

The aluminium alloys used for pressed panels are the 5000 and 6000 series alloys which contain a
small amount of magnesium. The 5000 series are used for internal panels and structural members
because they are not heat treatable and so are not affected by the elevated temperatures reached by
adjacent components such as the catalytic converter and exhaust system. The most common alloy
for this purpose is 5754.

Reduced copper content improves corrosion resistance

For external panels, it was found that a reduction in copper improved corrosion resistance, and these
alloys usually contain less than 1% magnesium and about 1% silicon. Typical are the 6009 and 6010
alloys used for the Honda NSX; Alusuisse’s Anticorodal-120, a special version of 6016; and Alcan’s
proprietary version of alloy 6111. Reynolds Metals also has a proprietary version of 6111.

Alusuisse Anticorodal-120 is an optimised version of A6016, which has good formability, and a
surface free of stretcher-strain imperfections. The main additions to the aluminium are silicon, 1.0-
1.5%, and magnesium, 0.25-0.60%. It is supplied in heat-treated condition (T4) which does not
impair formability. After the body has been assembled, it is heated in an oven for 30 minutes at
205oC to age-harden the sheet to improve resistance to denting. The other improved 6000 series
alloys are designed to age harden in the paint curing process, generally 20-30 minutes at 160oC.

The yield strength - strength before it deforms permanently - of the 5754 alloy is around 100MPa,
and the ultimate tensile strength is around 225MPa. Elongation, which indicates how much the
metal may be stretched in forming without fracture, is 19%. The 6111-T4 alloy is stronger and has
greater elongation - a yield strength of 170MPa, ultimate tensile strength of 280MPa, and elongation
of 23%.

Table 3.8

Typical yield strengths of 5000 and 6000 Series alloys, MPa

5000 6000
As supplied 100-150 100-150
After forming 180-200 200-250
After hardening 120-180 230-350

Extrusions may be heat treated prior to bending, where this is done, or afterwards, or it may be done
when the structure is complete. One interesting development is an Alumax technique in which the
extrusions are heat treated and then heated locally to be joined together to form a structure. No
subsequent heat treatment is required.

Metal matrix composites (MMCs)

Although aluminium provides excellent stiffness in body structures, albeit with a larger volume of
metal than with steel, greater stiffness can be a needed in some castings, and in other cases greater
resistance to high temperatures than that of conventional aluminium is needed.

One solution is the use of MMCs (metal matrix composites), which consist of a base material,
usually aluminium, reinforced by either ceramic powders or fibres - those reinforced by fibres are
sometimes called FRM (fibre-reinforced metals). The aim with MMCs is to combine the
low-density of aluminium with the strength, stiffness, resistance to elevated temperatures and wear
resistance of the ceramics. They can be used to replace aluminium castings wherever extra stiffness
is required - or an iron casting where light weight is required - but owing to their high cost, are used
principally as inserts in castings in areas where improved performance is required.

Alcan and Lanxide MMCs suit many applications

Aluminium MMCs are available commercially from Duralcan, a division of Alcan, Montreal,
Canada, suitable for casting, forging and extrusion, and from Lanxide, Delaware, USA, which has
concentrated on materials for castings. Duralcan produces MMCs based on aluminium reinforced by
a very fine powder: silicon carbide for casting alloys, and alumina for extrusions and forgings. Since
alumina is an inert material, but has similar characteristics to silicon carbide, it is preferred for
extrusions where silicon carbide could react in the process, changing the chemical composition.

In both cases, the tiny particles are distributed uniformly in the aluminium, in ratios of 10-30%. The
resulting materials are 40-60% stiffer, and have a yield strength up to 35% greater than aluminium
alloys. Abrasion resistance is up to about three times that of cast aluminium. However, the actual
properties depend on the grade and the application. For example, Duralcan with 10% silicon carbide
is proving most successful for cylinder liners, because greater amounts can lead to excessive wear of
the pistons.

Table 3.9

Properties of Duralcan and Lanxide MMC aluminium, aluminium alloy and cast iron

Duralcan Lanxide 91-X A390 Grey cast

F3D.20S-T61 -1060-30P-T6 aluminium iron

Density, g/cm3 2.78 2.78 3.02 7.9

Modulus of
elasticity, GPa 99 125 81 90
Yield strength,
MPa 338 267 240 210

Source: Duralcan USA, Lanxide

Duralcan F3D.20S-T61 has 20% silicon carbide particulates, and Lanxide 91-X-1060-30P-T6 is a
material suitable for sand casting with 30% silicon carbide. Although these materials are expensive
they can be used where iron or steel are the normal materials - brake discs and cylinder liners are
good examples. The stiffnesses are superior to that of cast iron, while the yield strength is
substantially greater. Of course, since the thermal conductivity of Duralcan and Lanxide MMCs is
about four times that of cast iron, heat is dissipated much more quickly, a significant advantage with
brake discs. Although it is desirable to increase the mass of the discs slightly compared with cast
iron, a weight saving of 45-50% is obtained - from 65 to about 33kg for a two-litre car.

Two processes developed by Lanxide

Lanxide has developed two processes. First, there is the Primex infiltration process in which a
preform of silicon carbide is produced and is then coated with molten aluminium to produce a near
net shape casting. Alternatively, there is the Primex Cast process in which aluminium alloy is added
to particles for infiltration, and the particles are dispersed by stirring prior to pouring into the mould.
Lanxide has also developed a special material, in which aluminium oxide is used as a
reinforcement, to produce brake discs and drums.

Existing uses of MMCs are few. Toyota has used MMC inserts in diesel pistons for some years, in
this case alumina fibres and nickel powder being used as the reinforcement. Toyota also uses an
MMC aluminium crankshaft pulley of the Toyota Soarer V-8. Normally, aluminium would not be
hard enough for this application, but with the reinforcement by fibres around the pulley grooves,
performance is excellent, and weight is reduced.

MMC cylinder liners for engines

Another type of MMC is that used by Honda for the cylinder liners of the 2.0 and 2.3 litre
four-cylinder engines. Unlike other Honda engines, these are produced by Honda’s medium-pressure
die-casting process, and have closed top decks. The liners, which contain 25% alumina and carbon
fibres are only 1.0mm thick, half that of the iron liners used previously, so the bores could be
enlarged without the use of wider bore spacing, which would have required a new machining line.
However, this is a special application, a solution to enlarge the engine without investing in new

Kolbenschmidt has developed its own MMC aluminium alloy, called Lokasil, specifically for use as
cylinder liners. The liner is produced as a preform of fibres infiltrated with aluminium, and these are
inserted into the dies prior to casting of the block. The surface contains a large amount of silicon
and is therefore highly wear-resistant. The advantage over an iron liner, of course, is that weight is
reduced and that the liner bonds metallurgically to the aluminium cast around it completely. The
advantage compared with the use of a high-silicon alloy for the whole cylinder block is that most of
the block, which does not require the wear-resistance can be produced from a cheaper alloy - the
extra cost is contained in a small area. Also, the conventional alloys can be machined more quickly
than those containing large amounts of silicon.

The first application of the Lokasil technique is on the engine for the Porsche Boxster, but
applications for larger volumes are under development.

Brake discs for Lotus Elise

The most recent application is the adoption of Lanxide MMC aluminium brake discs for the Lotus
Elise car. Since the car is being built in small volumes, Lanxide is producing these 30% silicon
carbide MMCs itself, but it has licensed Waupaca Foundry, Wisconsin, USA, and Brembo, Curno,
Italy to produce brake discs and drums using its material technology. This is a promising
application, since the weight saving is about 45% compared with conventional iron discs, and owing
to the high rate of thermal conductivity of the material, performance is much improved.

Likely applications for MMC aluminium include:

Brake discs and drums;

Brake callipers;
Engine cylinder liners;
Engine cylinder blocks and transmission cases, which are highly stressed, and where greater
stiffness than can be achieved by a standard aluminium alloy is required;
Engine connecting rods;
Engine valve caps, rockers and tappets.

In Europe, T&N has developed MMC aluminium discs, as has Kelsey Hayes in the USA. Kelsey
Hayes has also developed combined brake drums and wheel hubs in MMC aluminium. T&N
expects to be producing discs in 1997, with widespread use in 2000. It is using a Duralcan MMC
with 20% silicon carbide content combined with a new formulation of disc pad from Ferodo - 4042.
Duralcan is also supplying both American Axle & Manufacturing and Dana’s Spicer division with
MMC aluminium tube for propeller shafts for trucks; Spicer also produces propeller shafts from
carbon fibre.


Magnesium is an attractive material because both its density and stiffness are about 70% that of
aluminium. It is used to produce castings, and is coming into use for extrusions as well. However,
its cost for equal stiffness is twice that of aluminium, so it is not a competitor for most applications,
but will be used increasingly where its advantages outweigh the cost.

Largely as a result of the increased use in the car industry, the amount of magnesium used in North
America increased from 15,000 tonnes in 1991 to 30,000 tonnes in 1994, when there were 60
automotive applications; by 1998, there are expected to be 130 applications, and annual
consumption of over 60,000 tonnes.

New sources of supply

Recently, VW, anxious that there might not be sufficient magnesium available in the future, took a
35% stake in a new venture to produce magnesium in Israel. The Dead Sea Works in which it has
invested has a new production process based on technology brought to Israel by émigrés from
Russia. The combination of this process with the climatic conditions at the Dead Sea are said to
result in the production of magnesium at low cost. Initial capacity will be 27,500 tonnes a year.

Another sign of the trend is that Noranda, the Canadian mining company, brought forward its plans
for a new magnesium plant so that it should be complete by 1998. By that time, Noranda expects the
weight of magnesium castings in each car to average 7 kg against 1.4 kg in 1994 - to put that into
perspective, the forecast for aluminium for 1998 is around 90-100kg/car.

Noranda has developed a process to extract magnesium from waste tips at an asbestos mine at low
cost. Included among major shareholders in the new company set up to operate the new plant are a
group of component suppliers in the Toyota group, which is significant. They hold 16% of the
company, Magnola Magnesium, in which Noranda has a 52% stake. These two projects demonstrate
that interest in magnesium is growing quickly.

Magnesium has been in use, primarily in the USA, but also within the VW group, mostly for
components used internally. Applications have included outer steering columns and internal
stiffeners, for example. However the development of the AM ductile and corrosion-resistant alloys,
which contain 2-9% aluminium, has improved the potential for magnesium for external components
such as wheels and transmission housings.

Some alloys with high ductility - AM50 and AM60 for example - have come into use for
components such as wheels and suspension arms, while some new alloys designed for use at
elevated temperatures are also coming into use. One of these is Dow Chemical's AE42, which offers
the strength and creep resistance at 100-150oC available from existing alloys at 20-60oC.

Seats lead trend

One significant development is the adoption by Johnson Controls of the new Thixomold casting
process for some magnesium seat components to go into production for the 1996 model year. In this
process, the metal is forced into the dies in the form of a slurry - a state between liquid and solid
metal - which results in high-density castings free of porosity. This highly productive process is
another factor improving the prospects of magnesium, and for that matter, aluminium. The seat
structure is produced as magnesium castings by the new method, and weighs 2.02 kg, compared
with 3.84 kg for optimised steel components, offering a weight reduction of 9.1 kg/car.

Delphi Interior and Lighting has opted for cast magnesium cushion frames with an extruded
aluminium seat back for its lightweight seats. Other recent applications of magnesium include the
full-width knee bolster of the Buick Riviera - to be followed by a magnesium instrument panel cross
member on other GM cars - and the seat stanchions for the Ford Windstar. These stanchions form
the pivoting end supports of the seats, and each consists of a plate about 450 x 220mm in size in
which some lugs are formed. Ford has also standardised on a magnesium upper steering column in
North America.

These magnesium castings are used where the ease with which the material can be cast and the
weight saving makes up for the cost of the material. In some cases, the castings are very intricate
and in others they are very long with thin walls. Where practical considerations result in aluminium
castings being thicker than theoretically needed, magnesium can reduce weight. Potential
applications include gear casings and structural members inside cars.

High productivity with small magnesium castings

Another promising area for magnesium is for small components, up to about 0.5kg in weight. These
can be produced in hot-chamber die-casting machines, which have inherently higher productivity
than the cold-chamber die-casting machines used for larger magnesium components, and all those
of aluminium. Significantly, Dynacast, which concentrates on the production of precision injection
mouldings and castings, has recently expended its foundry at Alcester, UK, to enable it to produce
magnesium die-castings for the automotive industry weighing up to 250g.

Typical applications at present include small components for steering column locks and steering
column brackets, engine brackets, cam covers, steering wheels - consisting of the rim, spokes and
boss - seat frames, induction manifolds, and transfer cases for four-wheel drive vehicles.

Audi also uses a magnesium cast beam to support the instrument panel and fascia on the 100 model.
The casting is produced with thinner walls and smaller draft angles than would be possible with
aluminium, and offers a substantial weight saving.

In the future, potential applications include:

Transmission casings;
Steering column housings;
Suspension components such as hub carriers and links;
Seat frames;
Large internal castings, such as seat stanchions and knee bolsters;
Extrusions for frames of super-sports cars.

In several of these cases, magnesium competes with plastics. In a few niche products, it competes
with aluminium.

Exotic alloys and intermetallics

For some years, the aerospace industry has been experimenting with lithium aluminium alloys for
structural use, and intermetallics are under development for use in jet engines. The advantage of the
lithium aluminium alloys is their high strength combined with the density of aluminium. However,
these alloys are inherently extremely expensive, and so are unlikely to find use in cars - most car
manufacturers consider than commercial aluminium alloys are too expensive for most applications

Intermetallics, of which the best known is titanium alumnide, are combinations of different
materials formed from powder. The advantage of titanium alumnide is that with 50% aluminium,
the material is about 25% lighter than titanium - but still heavier than aluminium, of course.
Therefore, titanium alumnide is useful only where steel, nickel alloys or titanium are being used, or
are likely to be used. In any case, the intermetallics have low ductility, which limits their use in
automotive applications. Therefore, owing to the very high cost of these materials, the lack of
development and the low ductility, they are unlikely to be used in cars in the foreseeable future.

New plastics and polymers

Plastics materials includes injection mouldings and glass fibre reinforced plastics (GFRP) produced
by hand lay-up or some form of pressing. The raw material for pressing is supplied either as sheet
moulding compound (SMC) or bulk moulding compound (BMC), in which the fibres and resin are
supplied in one piece.

Since GFRP mouldings are based on thermosetting resins, there is no satisfactory recycling route.
The only use for scrap produced in the plant is to be used as a filler after being shredded. In
addition, the surface quality of SMC mouldings is variable, and the weight saving over steel is
small. Although SMC panels are used as bonnets and boot lids on some low-volume cars produced
in North America, GFRP does not seem to have a future in the automotive industry, except for very
low volume applications. Indeed, some US materials suppliers have produced reinforced
thermoplastic materials as direct competitors for GFRP.

Injection mouldings can be produced with satisfactory surface finish and quality for vertical panels,
but are not stiff enough for the horizontal panels such as the roof, bonnet and boot-lid at present.
One problem with injection moulded plastic panels is that they expand more than metal in hot
weather, so bigger gaps are needed between doors and pillars, for example. Some companies claim
that these big gaps are unacceptable, but GM’s Saturn Corporation, which uses thermoplastic
vertical panels claims that so long as the gaps are consistent, consumers are not concerned with the
width of the gaps. The success of the Saturn car would appear to justify these claims.

Plastics proven for body panels

Thermoplastics are already used widely for bumper fascias on cars. These are usually versions of
polypropylene or polycarbonate, but a number of special materials are in use, such as the special
olefin material used by Toyota, and high-stiffness polypropylene by Nissan.

Various materials have been introduced to overcome the limitations of plastics, and to produce
alternatives to the established polymers in use for plastic panels. These include GE Plastic’s Noryl
GTX, impact modified blend of polyamide and polydimethyl phenylene ether (PPE), and
polycarbonate/ABS, which is relatively inexpensive. Although Noryl GTX is expensive at about
$4,000(2,180ECU)/tonne, it is a well-proven material for use as body panels, and has excellent
resistance to petrol, oil and brake fluids, which can attack some other materials suitable for body

The future outlook for plastic body panels is good. Thermoplastics will be used primarily for:

Front wings;
Door skins;
Bumper fascias, "soft" noses and rear aprons.

The front wings of a few cars are already produced in Noryl GTX, and one of the largest injection
moulders in Europe, Plastic Omnium, expects to be producing over 2.7m front wing mouldings
annually to at least three European manufacturers within 18 months.

Carbon fibres stiffest

Carbon fibres, used principally to produce composite mouldings for aerospace components, for the
monocoque structures of racing cars, and for sporting goods such as fishing rods, shafts for golf
clubs, and spars for racing yachts, are also seen as a significant material for the automotive industry
in the distant future.

Such fibres are extremely strong, and when bonded together with epoxy resin they provide
extremely stiff but expensive structures. To produce such structures, sheets of fibres impregnated
with resin are laid in moulds, and loaded into autoclaves which are evacuated so that the surplus
resin is pulled out of the moulding, leaving just enough to bond the fibres together. In this way,
maximum stiffness is obtained.

Such a technique is impractical for the automotive industry, but stiff structures can be moulded in
more conventional manner. However, to obtain the advantages of carbon fibres, long fibres are
needed; if short fibres are used to reinforce thermoplastic mouldings, the benefits are not greatly in
excess of those with glass reinforcements, and do not justify the cost.

It is envisaged that by about 2005, the manufacturers of carbon fibres will have reduced their
manufacturing costs sufficiently for these materials to be used in composites in some vehicle
structures. However, it is most likely that the fibres will be used as reinforcements, and owing to the
high cost of the materials, it is not likely that carbon fibres will become mainstream materials in the
car industry in the foreseeable future.

Plastic mouldings to dominate for intake manifolds

One area where aluminium is losing a traditional business is in the production of intake manifolds.
Currently, most intake manifolds are aluminium castings, produced either as sand mouldings, or as
gravity die-castings with internal sand cores.

However, recently, BMW, Ford of Europe, GM Engine Division in the USA, Peugeot and Rover
Group have all adopted thermoplastic intake manifolds. On the new BMW V-8, the top part of the
manifold is a moulding, the remainder being a casting, whereas the complete manifolds of the GM
V-6 engine, Peugeot four-cylinder engines, the Ford Zetec engine and Rover K Series engines are
complex injection mouldings.

These manifolds are made from nylon 66 reinforced with 35% glass fibres, which can be moulded
in a short cycle time, and combines good toughness, tensile strength, impact strength and heat

Complex shape with water passages

Because the manifold is tucked in close to the engine, the shape is complex, and carries mountings
for the fuel injectors. The moulding generally consists of a central plenum chamber from which four
branches run outward and upward to the mounting flange. Also, coolant passages run through the
manifold, below the ports, to assist in warming up from cold. Finally, most engine are designed for
exhaust gas circulation, which increases the temperature in the manifold.

To obtain the complex shape, a metal core, made from an eutectic alloy that melts at a low
temperature, forms the interior shape of the manifold. It is melted out after moulding, to leave a
smooth surface unobtainable by casting. Studies show that not only do these mouldings produced
excellent manifolds, usually raising power output by 1-2%, but that their energy balance is more
favourable than that of aluminium.

High strength steels

Needless to say, the steel industry, which still dominates the supply of engineering materials to the
automotive industry, has attempted to counteract this new challenge with the production of new
high-strength alloys and with some new techniques aimed at optimising the design of an all-steel
body. For example, in the USA, the Auto/Steel Partnership was set up between the US Big Three
and some of the steel makers to improve the performance of automotive steels.

The latest high-strength steels, with strengths ranging from 15 to 100% greater than mild steel, now
have excellent surface finishes, and can be welded easily, so they can be used for external panels.
However, some problems with spring back - the tendency of the steel to spring back toward its
original shape a little after pressing - remain.

20% weight reduction with new steels

To optimise weight of a steel body, much more high-strength steel will be used than in the past, and
some panels will be produced from tailored blanks. A tailored blank for a door panel, for example,
consists of a thick panel at the hinged end for about one-quarter of the length, then a very thin piece
of high-strength steel in the middle, and a slightly thicker piece in the region of the lock. The three
pieces - there could be more - are laser welded together, a technique that produces a very smooth
surface, and which can be pressed as easily as single sheets.

Porsche Engineering Services carried out a study into the weight saving possible with steel when
holistic design was adopted - looking at the design as a whole on a systems basis - and concluded
that it would be possible to reduce the weight of the Ford Taurus body by 63 kg with the optimised

use of the latest steel - a weight saving of about 20%. It was funded by the American Iron and Steel
Institute and Ford Motor Co.

Table 3.10

Weight savings obtainable with different materials

Material Weight saving, %

Optimised steel 7
Aluminium/steel hybrid 18
All aluminium 30+
Source: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz carried out a similar study, and concluded that a weight saving of less than 10%
would be possible with steel, whereas 18-20% was possible with the use of a structure of steel with
a superstructure of aluminium, and over 30% with an all-aluminium structure.

It is likely that steel will continue to be used on smaller cars, where the potential for weight
reduction is less, and where cost is most critical for many years. However, the potential for weight
saving provided by all-aluminium or aluminium/steel structures is such that aluminium will be used
extensively by the automotive industry in the next decade.


Current applications

Aluminium is now used for almost all cylinder heads of petrol engines in Europe, for water and oil
pump housings, minor covers and casings, and for transmission casings. Traditionally, these have
been produced by the gravity, low pressure or high pressure die-casting process, depending on the
degree of complexity of the casting. Other processes include the lost foam process and low-pressure
precision sand casting.

Cylinder heads almost all aluminium - even for diesels

Most cylinder heads of diesel engines are also cast in aluminium, and about 20% of cylinder blocks
produced in Europe are also aluminium castings - approximately 2.5m cylinder blocks a year.
Among major companies using aluminium cylinder blocks in Europe are Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW,
Citroen, Ford, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Rover Group, Peugeot and Volvo. Recent
introductions include the range of BMW six-cylinder engines of 2.0, 2.5 and 2.8 litres. The three
engines were introduced between September 1994 and May 1995, and production is now running at
about 280,000 units a year. The cylinder blocks are produced by the low pressure process from G-
AlSi9Cu3 alloy in a BMW foundry.

Ford of Europe adopts aluminium for new small engine

In May 1995, Ford started to build its Zetec-SE 1.25 litre four-cylinder engine at Valencia, the
precision sand cast cylinder blocks and heads being produced by VAW Motor at a new foundry
built for the purpose at Dillingen, south-west Germany. In the first year, about 150,000 blocks and
heads are being produced, but the capacity of the foundry, due to be reached within two years of
start-up is 425,000 units a year. In 1998, Ford expects to start production of this engine at Bridgend,
UK, and a new foundry with capacity of about 500,000 units a year will be built to supply Bridgend.

Rover Group introduced its 2.5 litre K V-6 engine in January 1996. It has a gravity cast cylinder
block, supplied by VAW West Yorkshire Foundries, Leeds, UK. The cylinder heads are cast by
Rover in-house in its low-pressure sand casting foundry.

Most European car firms moving to aluminium cylinder blocks

In Europe, most manufacturers seem committed to the widespread use of aluminium cylinder blocks
with the exception of Fiat and GM Europe. Fiat has just introduced a new family of engines with
cast iron cylinder blocks, and these are to be used by all marques in the Fiat group. GM Europe’s
technical staff sees little merit in the use of aluminium for cylinder blocks, and has chosen cast iron
for its new 0.9-1.2 litre engine, where the potential for weight reduction is small. However, GM will
build a US-designed engine with an aluminium cylinder block in both the USA and Europe.

Ford produces aluminium V-8 and V-6 in North America

In the USA, Ford now produces a modular range of engines, initially V-8 and V-6, and the V-8 is
built with both aluminium and iron cylinder blocks, while the V-6 are all aluminium. The blocks for
the V-8 are gravity die-castings produced by Teksid, and it is expected that the aluminium block

will gradually supplant the cast iron block for passenger car applications - there is a huge market for
trucks, used for as private vehicles in the USA.

Both the aluminium cylinder blocks and heads for the V-6 are cast in-house by Ford at its foundry at
Windsor, Canada, using the Cosworth low-pressure precision sand casting process. Initially, the
foundry tooled up to produce 1.2m moulds a year, but has now been expanded to produce 1.8m
moulds a year.

Many Japanese engines have aluminium blocks

In Japan, all Honda engines are produced with aluminium cylinder blocks, and almost all are high
pressure die-castings, although the company also produces medium-pressure castings. Suzuki also
uses aluminium only for cylinder blocks, and almost all Nissan engines have aluminium cylinder
blocks, including the small 1.0-1.3 litre four-cylinder unit in the Micra. The most recent Nissan
engine is the VQ-6, 2.0 and 3.0 litre units. The cylinder block is a high pressure die-casting, and the
weight of the 2.0 and 3.0 litre units, fully dressed for manual transmissions, are 177 and 181kg

Mazda produces V-6 engines with high pressure die-cast cylinder blocks, and is switching to the use
of aluminium for all its engines. Toyota uses aluminium cylinder blocks for its larger engines, such
as the V-8, and is to adopt aluminium for several of its other engines. However, it is likely to retain
iron cylinder blocks for some of its smaller engines. Mitsubishi is committed to the use of cast iron,
and has recently introduced a new 1.1 litre unit with a cast iron block.

In Europe, a large proportion of cars sold have diesel engines, and almost all of these still have cast
iron cylinder blocks. This situation will change gradually, but not for some years, so the total
proportion of cars with aluminium cylinder blocks will not rise as quickly as that for petrol engines.

As mentioned earlier, most minor castings, such as engine covers and water pump housings are
aluminium, as are almost all transmission casings. Indeed, the cylinder block is the one large casting
that is produced predominantly from cast iron at present, although the trend is toward aluminium.

Forgings for suspension arms

In the body and chassis, applications of aluminium are fewer. Aluminium forgings are used for
suspension components in cars produced in low-volume such as the Chevrolet Corvette, BMW
coupe and some 7 Series models, Mazda RX-7, Saab 900, Toyota Supra and Volvo 850. Typical
components include suspension arms and hub carriers.

Other minor applications include engine mounts in various cars, extruded door beams in the Lotus
Esprit and Saab 900, and extruded air bag containers. Aluminium bonnets and boot lids are used on
a number of low-volume cars built in North America, Japan and Europe. Aluminium exterior panels
have been used on Land Rover vehicles for many years, and the most recent model, the Discovery,
continues this practice with aluminium exterior panels attached to a steel structure.


Emerging technologies and applications

To justify the adoption of a relatively expensive material such as aluminium, the car manufacturers
require compensating benefits in productivity and therefore costs. They are also wish to avoid being
locked into a process for a long period of time without having the opportunity of changing the
design. Therefore, suppliers and some manufacturers have made great efforts over the past twenty
years to develop new processes that allow the use of aluminium without a significant cost penalty.
Many of these projects have been highly successful. Indeed, one of the main reasons why
aluminium is coming into use is that innovative processes in casting and the production of structures
are helping to overcome the high cost of the material.

High-volume aluminium casting

High pressure die-casting remains the most productive method of casting, since no cores need to be
made, there is no core handling, and no core removal. However, the design is inhibited slightly by
the process, and the die-casting machines and dies are expensive, and so a long-term commitment to
the process is required. Honda is one of the biggest users of high pressure die-casting, and Mazda
and Nissan also use this method. General Motors also uses die-casting for many cylinder blocks in
North America.

However, to reduce tooling costs, and increase flexibility, various companies have developed new
processes. These are:

Lost foam casting;

Cosworth low-pressure precision sand casting;
VAW gravity precision sand casting;
Honda medium-pressure die-casting.

In the lost foam process, an exact replica - or preform - of the object to be cast is produced from
polystyrene foam, and it is coated with ceramic slurry to provide a heat-resistant coating. The
preform is then inserted in a drum which is filled with sand, and the sand is vibrated continuously
during the process to ensure that it does not contain any voids.

When the molten metal is poured onto the polystyrene foam at a controlled rate, it melts the foam
out from the ceramic coating and takes its place. The speed of pouring is critical, since the
polystyrene must be melted out, and not burned out. The advantages of the process are:

High-precision castings can be produced with even tiny holes such as oil passages cored in;
Since the polystyrene preform can consist of several parts bonded together, almost any shape can be
Tooling costs are low.

The potential disadvantages are that inserts, such as cylinder liners, cannot be cast into the
component, and that as pouring is from above the mould, porosity is more likely than with some of
the other new methods. The lost foam process is also criticised owing to the emission of fumes as
the foam melts. However, in practice, a very small amount of fumes are discharged, and these can

be collected easily. The process is cleaner than casting metal into green sand which burns, emitting
a large amount of fumes into the foundry.

Saturn uses lost-foam process for blocks

The lost-foam process is used mainly in North America, where Saturn Corporation of General
Motors uses it to cast cylinder blocks and heads in aluminium and crankshafts and differential
carriers in spherical graphite iron. The fact that iron and aluminium can be cast in one foundry,
served by one preform shop is an advantage of this method. It is therefore suitable for manufacturers
that wish to produce castings for one engine only on a particular site.

Other users include Teksid, which produces components such as intake manifolds with this process,
and the Citroen foundry at Charleville, which produces small intricate castings in lost foam.

Precision sand casting

The advantages of sand casting are the low tooling cost, short lead time and potential for high
productivity. With die-casting, it is necessary for the casting to solidify in the dies, of course, and
because the dies are expensive, they must remain at the die-casting machine, so they remain
stationary while cooling. With gravity or low-pressure die-casting this limits the output to 10-12
castings an hour. On the other hand, with sand cores, the metal is poured into the moulding box
which then moves along a conveyor while the casting cools. As a result, 60-70 castings can be
produced hourly, which is ideal for high volume production.

Traditionally, however, the use of green sand moulds with resin-bonded silica sand cores led to
inconsistencies, as did the turbulent pouring and the inclusion of foreign matter and slag in the
molten aluminium. Yields were therefore low, and tolerances on dimensions were high.

Cosworth pioneered new approach

Cosworth Engineering pioneered a new method of sand casting, and subsequently set up Cosworth
Castings to handle this business. In the Cosworth process, the combination of green sand and resin
bonded cores is replaced by a mould and core pack of zircon sand, which is more stable at the
solidification temperature of aluminium than silica sand. The use of this method of coring allowed
castings to be produced with thin walls to very close tolerances.

To improve the quality of the molten metal used, Cosworth keeps the aluminium in a fully enclosed
holding furnace so that the metal drawn into the mould is free of inclusions and foreign material. In
addition, an electro-magnetic pump is used to force the molten metal through a fully enclosed tube
into the bottom of the mould at low pressure. Two moulds are mounted back to back on a turntable,
which rotates horizontally. As soon as one is filled, the table is turned over so that the first mould is
upside down, and this ensures complete filling of the moulds and allows the second mould to be
filled, thus improving speed of operation. The moulds then cool on a conveyor.

Afterwards, the sand is removed from the casting thermally, in a process in an enclosed furnace in
which the resin is melted out. Over 95% of the sand is recycled for further use.

Cosworth produces a number of cylinder head and block castings itself - some in high volume - and
cylinder liners can be cast into the block with good consistency. It also licensed Ford Motor Co to

use the process. Ford built a foundry at Windsor, Canada to produce cylinder blocks and heads for
its V-6 2.5 and 3.0 litre engine at a rate of 1.2m moulds a year; the plant has recently been expanded
to increase capacity to 1.8m moulds a year.

VAW gravity precision casting

Rover Group emulated some aspects of the Cosworth process in setting up a low-pressure foundry
at Longbridge, UK, while VAW combined its core package system (CPS) with some other aspects
to produce its precision gravity sand casting method. In CPS, the cores are built up in a stack, one
on top of the other. This method allows all the cores to be produced automatically, and after each is
produced it is passed to the next machine and assembled to the next core as it leaves its core making
machine. In this way, the cores are both produced and assembled automatically. This system is
suitable for cylinder head castings.

For cylinder blocks, it is necessary to assemble the heaviest and most intricate cores - such as those
for the crankcase - manually, and some others are installed by robot. All the cores are made from
silica sand bonded with polyurethane resin.

Great attention has been paid to the cleanliness of the molten metal, which is held in a completely
enclosed furnace, and transferred through enclosed pipes and a rotary shut-off valve to the mould.
Filling, although by gravity, is from the bottom of the mould, as in the Cosworth process, and the
process is very quick, allowing one casting to be produced in 45 seconds.

Once the mould is full, it travels along a conveyor to cool, and most of the cores are removed
thermally, with some subsequent shaking of the casting by robot to remove the residue. Incidentally,
half the energy required to remove the sand from the castings is provided by burning the resin that is
melted from the sand, 98% of which is recycled.

New foundry for precision sand casting

VAW Motor built a new foundry at Dillingen south-west Germany to operate on this process, most
of its other plants producing gravity die-castings. It invested DM250m (136m ECU) in the new
foundry to produce cylinder blocks and heads at a rate of 425,000 a year for the Ford Zetec-SE
engine, which is assembled at Valencia, Spain. Production started in the spring of 1995. It plans to
build a second foundry in the UK to supply Ford’s factory at Bridgend when production of the
Zetec-SE starts there.

A feature of the Ford cylinder block is that many cavities and holes are cored in, so this block could
not be produced by high pressure die-casting. For example, the oil filter head is integral with the
block, and the main oil gallery and the oil feeds to the main journals of the crankshaft are all cored
in whereas these are normally machined. It is partly because of the capability of the casting process
that only one-third the number of machining operations required for the previous Ford cast iron
block are required on the new aluminium block. Therefore, the aluminium block is competitive in

ICA improved method

In Australia, Intermet-Comalco Aluminium (ICA) has also developed a low-pressure sand casting
method, which has been licensed to one large foundry in the USA. It uses a valve to control the flow
of molten aluminium into the fully enclosed holding furnace, fills the mould from the bottom under
pressure, and once filled the mould is sealed mechanically, so it can be moved immediately.
Another feature is the use of a chill-zone which produces a chill-cast face on one side of the casting,
and this increases the properties of the alloy locally. With cylinder heads, the chilled area is the face
of the head, and with cylinder blocks it can be either the top deck or the bulkheads in the crankcase.

As mentioned earlier, although pressure die-casting offers optimum overall productivity, the high
tooling costs are a deterrent to its use, and it cannot be used to produce cylinder heads. These new
sand casting methods enable aluminium cylinder blocks and heads to be cast with precision, high
quality and with very few rejects being produced. Therefore, they are leading to the increased use of
aluminium for cylinder blocks.

Squeeze casting and thixoforming

For high-performance components, such as suspension links and arms, squeeze casting and
thixoforming are allowing castings to replace forgings. There are two methods of squeeze casting,
which is based on high-pressure die-casting; one is called direct and the other indirect squeeze
casting, but the principle is that pressure is applied to the molten metal after the dies have been
filled. In the indirect process, being adopted by Ford for suspension components, the molten metal
is metered into a preheated die, and the pressure is maintained, with extra fluid metal being added as
necessary until the casting is solid.

Not only does squeeze casting produce very dense castings, free of porosity, but it also allows the
use of highly ductile alloys suitable for suspension components.

Thin-wall ductile castings can also be produced by vacuum high-pressure die-casting, in which the
dies are evacuated before casting. Typical vacuum processes are the Alusuisse MFT, and Mueller
Weingarten Vacural processes.

In the thixoforming process, the aluminium is at a temperature at which it is neither solid nor
molten, but plastic. Therefore, the metal can be squeezed into the mould, something like squeezing
toothpaste. Because the metal remains in one piece, porosity, the bugbear of castings, is much less
likely to occur, yet the metal can be forced into the dies to produce shapes as precise as with die-

There is also thixoform forging, in which the temperature is lower, and the dies are of simpler form,
and this is an alternative to forgings.

With vacuum pressure die-casting, squeeze casting and thixoform casting, it is now possible to cast
safety critical components in aluminium. This development is leading to the use of aluminium
suspension components on an increasing number of cars.

Innovative aluminium structures for car bodies

Conventional steel unitary construction bodies consist of a number of main members and the major
panels, such as the floor, roof and bulkheads for stiffness. Because the windows and other apertures
are so large, the body is not really a stressed-skin structure. The body consists of major sub-

The underbody, which consists of the main and rear floors, engine compartment and wheel arches;
The body sides which usually include the rear wheel arches;
The roof and its reinforcing cross members.

The detachable panels - the bonnet, doors and boot lid or tailgate - these are sometimes called
closures - make up the body, but do not contribute to its stiffness. The doors must be able to
withstand the impact of a side collision, and generally incorporate anti-intrusion beams. On impact,
the doors should be designed in such a way that the force of the impact is transferred to the main

For primary safety, and for low noise and vibration levels, the body needs to be stiff in beam and
torsionally. For secondary safety, of course, it needs to be able to absorb the energy involved in a
frontal collision without injury to the occupants. Research shows that aluminium is an excellent
material for absorbing energy, particularly where extrusions or tubes are used to absorb the energy
because the material folds uniformly and reliably. Audi has found that an aluminium structure has
the same energy absorption performance as a similar steel structure weighing 2.7 times as much.

Aluminium ideal for body structures

Aluminium is therefore an ideal material for body structures, and there are various ways in which it
can be adopted. First, there is the gradualist approach, in which aluminium is used first for the
bonnet and boot lid, and then door skin panels and frames. After that, some aluminium would be
used for other skin panels, and later for some of the internal structural members, such as the
cantrails and windscreen surround. However, this approach will not reduce weight enough to make
a worthwhile reduction in fuel consumption for two or three generations of cars, but will increase
cost. It is therefore appropriate on the most expensive cars, where the price is not important, or as a
way for the manufacturer to learn how to handle aluminium.

In adopting aluminium, car manufacturers need to reduce the cost of assembly to compensate for the
extra cost of the materials. The body of a typical saloon car consists of 300 components and 4,000
spot welds. A reduction in both the number of components and sub-assemblies and welds - or joints,
since other forms of joint can be used - lowers assembly and inventory costs, thus making
aluminium more attractive.

Either unitary body or frame-and-panel construction

Although early work on aluminium bodies involved the use of pressed steel bodies similar to those
of steel, new developments have led to there being two basic methods by which an aluminium
structure can be made:

A unitary construction body, similar to the existing steel body, but made entirely of aluminium;
A frame consisting of extrusions, or extrusions and castings, with panels of aluminium or various
types of plastics - frame-and-panel construction.
Aluminium is suitable for both methods, and is ideal for use in frame-and-panel construction,
although magnesium could be used for some components as well. The two main systems are now

A. Alcan’s weld-bond system

Alcan has developed a complete system for unitary aluminium bodies, in which the form of the
aluminium structure resembles that of an existing steel body. The system, called Alcan Aluminium
Vehicle Technology (AVT) consists of rolled aluminium sheet treated with a coating and a
lubricant, and an adhesive bonding and welding system - called weld-bonding. The panels are
welded and bonded together, potentially with only about one-third the amount of welds found on a
normal car, with the adhesive contributing not just to the strength of the joint, but also making a
significant reduction in noise and vibration levels.

To suit this system, which Alcan claims to be the optimum for stiffness/weight, a number of special
features have been developed. The aluminium sheet is produced from an alloy formulated to give
good formability and weldability, and is treated to give a good bond to the adhesive and thus
improve its durability. A special lubricant improves forming, but unlike conventional lubricants
does not impair the efficiency of the bond between the metal and adhesive. In fact, the lubricant
vaporises when the adhesive cures.

Requires less power for welding

A subsidiary benefit of the pre-treatment is that it lowers the electrical power required for welding.
One of the problems with aluminium is that spot welding requires a peak current of 30,000-36,000A
against about 12,000A for steel. However, the use of the pre-treatment reduces the requirement to
about 27,000A, a valuable 20% reduction.

The one-part XD4600 epoxy resin was developed specially for the application by Ciba, and plays a
critical part in improving performance. First, the presence of the adhesive acts as a damping element
on all box sections and panels, so that the structure has inherently lower noise and vibration levels
than steel structures. Secondly, the weld-bonded structure is 10-25% stiffer than an equivalent steel
structure. These advantages are worthwhile to car makers of the more expensive vehicles.

Volume-production potential demonstrated

Various projects to demonstrate the viability of the concept have been carried out, but the most
significant is Ford’s Synthesis 2010 and the production of 40 Aluminium Intensive Vehicles (AIVs)
based on the Ford Taurus in the USA. These vehicles are currently being test-driven in North
America to assess practical problems. Aspects of the performance and advantages of the aluminium
structure are discussed in Chapter Six.
Existing press shops can be used
The attraction of the weld-bonded system is that existing press facilities, where most manufacturers
have invested heavily over the past five years, could continue to be used to produce panels for the
next 10-15 years at least, allowing a reasonable rate of amortisation.

Recently, a modification to the process called riv-bonding, in which adhesive bonding is combined
with self-piercing rivets, has been proposed as an alternative by Alcan. In either case, the existing
robots, with new welding or riveting guns, could continue to be used, although fewer would be used
than with a steel body.

In order to reduce the number of components in the body, it is certain that even a unitary
construction aluminium body will contain some extrusions and/or castings. Extrusions will be used
for the sills, each of which otherwise consists of four to six pressings, and for such members as the
cantrails and top windscreen rail. In addition, a few of the new ductile aluminium die-castings,
which can be welded easily to sheet, are likely to be used. Only in this way could a pressed
aluminium body consist of significantly less components than a steel one; indeed, it is likely to
consist of more pressed panels because it cannot be used to produce such deep pressings, so in some
cases two aluminium pressings might be needed where one steel pressing is used now.

B. Extruded body frame with panels

An alternative is the use of extruded members to form a frame which provides most of the rigidity
and strength, but which would be supplemented by the floor and some other panels. This approach,
called a frame-and-panel body requires a new approach to manufacture. The frame is potentially
very stiff compared with one formed from pressings, and the tooling cost is far lower.

1. Alcoa’s new concept

Alcoa, which pioneered this concept, adopted a structure consisting of extrusions of complex
shapes, which include flanges to connect to the floor, and in some cases incorporate internal webs
and reinforcing members. These extrusions are joined together by thin-wall castings of a special
ductile aluminium alloy. The castings are used as nodes at junctions between members, such as
between the front of the sill member and the bottom of the hinge pillar. Because the castings can be
reinforced as necessary to withstand the loads, they provide stiffer joints than either a welded
aluminium structure of extrusions alone, or a welded steel body. In a steel body, joints at corners are
among the weakest areas; in a frame-and-panel body, they are among the strongest.

To make this concept possible, Alcan developed special alloys, both for extruding and casting. It set
up its first plant to bend and machine the extrusions, which are bought in from an adjacent extruder,
and to produce die-castings at Soest in Germany in 1994. The plant involved an investment of
DM140m (76m ECU). A second plant has been built at Northwood, Ohio, USA. At Soest, Alcoa
produces the formed extrusions and castings for the Audi A8.

Alcoa’s innovations are:

Extrusions that can be formed with inexpensive dies from structural aluminium alloys;
A method of stretch-bending extrusions around gas-filled mandrels, so that curved cantrails, door
pillars and S-shape main longitudinal members can be produced;
Precision die-casting with wall thicknesses of 1.0-3.0mm which have great toughness, and energy
absorption with elongation of over 16% compared with 3-4% for typical die-castings.

For the extrusions, Alcoa developed a 6000 series alloy with the addition of some copper.
Unfortunately, this alloy requires to be water quenched after extrusion, and since the shapes of the
extrusions are complex, the water needs to be directed with precision at the aluminium. Alcoa has

now developed a new 6000 alloy which has the same performance, but which can be air-quenched,
so the cost can be reduced and quality improved. This is coming into use in 1996.

Sixteen of the 47 extrusions of the Audi A8 are stretch bent into dies to form curved shapes. The
most important of these are the windscreen bottom and top rails, the cantrails, and the main rear
members which are S-shape so that they can connect to the rear of the sills and then curve inside the
wheel arches. All the extrusions are cut to length and many are drilled or profile cut to match
adjacent panels.

To produce a ductile casting alloy, Alcoa developed C119, which contains 10% silicon 0.2%
magnesium, and 0.015% strontium. The iron content is a maximum of 0.15%, which is very low for
a casting alloy, and which is required because the alloy has an affinity for iron. Special coating of
the dies is required, and the supply system of aluminium to the casting machines is lined with

Initially, some problems were encountered with twist in the very thin castings - there are 35 in the
Audi A8 structure - but these problems have now been overcome by treatment after casting. Some
are straightened, a routine procedure with very thin castings. The walls of the castings are 1-2mm
thick, and an indication of the success of the process can be gained from the fact that Alcoa is to
produce a casting 1.2m long with walls of 1-2mm for a B-post for a car; it will replace a pillar
consisting of seven pressings, each of which requires three or four sets of press tool dies. This is the
sort of casting that would have seemed feasible in magnesium only a few years ago.

To produce successful ductile thin-wall castings, Alcoa uses Mueller-Weingarten die-casting

machines with a version of that company’s Vacural vacuum casting process it has modified. After
two years’ production of castings and extrusions, the basic concept and machinery used to produce
the components has been shown to be a success.

Again, Alcoa has already developed an improved casting alloy, C448, which is basically the same as
C119 except that 0.6% of manganese is added, and this will supersede C119 soon.

Rivet, bond or weld structure

The use of separate panels is not a disadvantage because it enables the car to be assembled in a
different sequence from that used at present and gives the manufacturer greater flexibility in body
styles and derivatives and in altering the materials to suit changing economics. The panels and
extrusions can be joined together by welding, bonding or riveting, or a combination of both. It is
most practical to use MIG welding for the joints between the extrusions and castings.

Although the Alcoa concept is usually referred to as a frame, a number of pressings are required.
For example, the floor, the dash panel, rear bulkhead, rear wheel arches and boot floor areal
required. Of course, since these can be riveted or bonded to the frame, they do not need to be
aluminium; the rear wheel arches could be plastic with a low-quality finish, and the other panels
could be steel or aluminium. In addition, of course, there are all the skin panels, which can continue
to be made in the car manufacturer’s press shop from aluminium. The vertical panels could also be
injection moulded plastic.

Low tooling costs

One of the major advantages of the Alcoa aluminium structure is that the tooling cost is low.
Extrusion dies cost about 4,000 ECU each, bending dies 16,000 ECU each and the dies for castings
about 110,000 ECU. The tooling cost for the Audi A8 frame was about 10m ECU against 120m
ECU for a steel body. With the addition of all the aluminium panels, the total tooling cost for the
body was about 40m ECU. Although extrusion dies need to be replaced after about 40 tonnes of
aluminium have been extruded - typically 40,000 components - their cost is low, and the lower cost
of tools as they are used is preferable to most companies than the huge tooling costs incurred before
the first car is sold.

The advantages of the Alcoa process are:

Low tooling cost - about one-third of that for a unitary construction body;
Greater torsional stiffness and better energy absorption because the thickness of the extrusion and
casting can be selected to meet the loads in that area;
Simplicity of manufacture with fewer components than with unitary construction;
Flexibility in manufacturing and marketing strategy because the manufacturer can choose panels of
any suitable material, and can even combine aluminium and magnesium with suitable joining
Ease of repair after a minor accident.

Fastenings for aluminium structures

The trend in the construction of aluminium structures is toward the use of self-piercing rivets, such
as those produced by Henrob or Ariel Industries. These are excellent for joining aluminium panels,
because their holding power is greater and more consistent than spot welds. Table 5.1 shows
independent test results obtained by TWI, formerly The Welding Institute, Cambridge, UK. These
rivets can be used to fasten panels to other panels, or to extrusions or thin-wall aluminium castings.

Table 5.1
Peel and shear strength of self-piercing rivets and spot welds, KN

Self-piercing Spot weld


Peeling force to fail 1.5 1.1

Shear force to fail 5.2 5.0

Source: TWI, Cambridge, UK.

Other frames built from extrusions

Alcoa’s frame is characterised by the use of extrusions and castings, whereas Alumax, Hydro
Aluminum and Kaiser are among companies that have produced extruded frames, in all cases the
extrusions being joined together without the use of castings at nodes. Hydro Aluminium claims that
this process is more acceptable for recycling, since the complete frame consists of similar alloys. If
casting alloys are present, there is a possibility that the complete frame will be recycled for casting
alloy, which is not desirable. This aspect of aluminium vehicles is discussed in Chapter Seven.

Hydro Aluminium Automotive Structures is already producing the extrusions for two cars on a low-
volume production basis - the Renault Spider and the Lotus Elise. Both are small mid-engine super-
sports cars, with plastic panels. Hydro Aluminium produces the complete frame for Lotus. The
Renault Spider consists of 45 extrusions produced from only 11 dies, and the weight of the frame
which consists of a number of longitudinal and transverse members is about 100kg. Renault is
producing the car in very small numbers.

For the Elise, Lotus chose an innovative design in which the use of simple extrusions produces a
frame that resembles one of unitary construction. Two pairs of deep narrow extrusions form the
main side members of the frame, the upper ones extending and spreading out beyond the cockpit,
and being bent inward so that they are narrow enough at the rear to leave adequate space for the
wheels and suspension.

The frame is completed by a number of extrusions as cross members and posts, while the extruded
anti-intrusion door beams provide most of the structure of the door. There is a detachable energy
absorbing aluminium structure at the rear.

The 40 extrusions in the frame are made in 25 dies from 6060 aluminium alloy, and other
components are extruded from either 6063 or 7108 alloys. There are also a number of aluminium
panels in the frame - such as the floor and seat cross member - and these are made from 3105 alloy,
which is produced from 100% recycled aluminium.

Joined by bonding and form-drilling screws

The complete frame weighs 65kg, and is interesting that the members are joined together by a
combination of bonding and self-piercing screws. Adhesives are applied to all joints, and Ejot
fasteners are driven into the panels. These fasteners form-drill through the aluminium, so that the
lower panel is swaged into the upper panel, and forms a flange in the hole. Therefore, the length of
the thread engagement is more than twice that of a conventional self-tapping screw. The Ejot
fasteners are used to provide resistance to shear loads, against which adhesive is fairly weak. Thus,
the combination of adhesive bonding and the Ejot fasteners produces a sound joint.

Apart from the frame, 20 extrusions are used for other key components in the car, including the
front suspension uprights, produced as complex multi-void extrusions by Alusingen, and the pedals
and door hinges.

Swaged joints

Alumax has developed a novel - and patented - method of joining extruded members of 6000 Series
alloys which depends on the temporary softening of the hardened alloy by induction heating and
subsequent quenching. One member is passed through holes in the other box-section member, and
then the metal is heated locally where the member passes through the other. Axial pressure is then
applied, and the member is deformed locally to form swages that lock the member to the other one.
The metal regains its temper with age hardening.

Computer simulations indicate that the Alumax CF (Compression Fit) joint is more efficient than a
welded one. Several different types of joint can be used according to the section of the extrusions.
One of the first experimental frames to be built was a ladder frame as a substitute for the steel frame
of the Ford Explorer all-terrain vehicle.

The frame was developed and built in six months at a cost of $75,000 (41,000 ECU). The prototype
lacks engine and suspension mountings, but consists of two main members and a number of cross
members. It weighs 60kg, and the company estimates that the complete frame would weigh about
115kg, compared with 180kg for the existing Explorer.

Alumax also proposes the method for a frame-and-panel car body, in which some joints would be of
the swaged type, and some would involve the use of a standard insert, secured by CF hollow rivets
to the two members. Whereas a frame consisting of extrusions and castings consists of 24 nodes and
78 welded connections, the CF frame consists of 24 nodes and only 30 formed connections. Clearly,
this is a simple approach with the merit of a reduction in the number of joints.

Lead time reduced

All these frames share simplicity, low tooling cost and short lead time. Reducing lead time is now
seen as a major priority by all car manufacturers, and the prospect of being able to tool up for a body
structure in 12 weeks if the frame consists of extrusions, and 16-24 weeks if many die-castings are
included compared with over 12 months for a steel body is very attractive, especially when
combined with low tooling costs.

Suitable for annual output of about 100,000 a year

When the frame-and-panel concept was first adopted, critics claimed that owing to the short lives of
the extrusion tools it was suitable only for outputs of less than 50,000 a year. However,
developments have increased the viability of extruded frames well beyond this point. Despite its
production schedule of 700 cars a year, the Lotus Elise could be built economically at volumes of
over 50,000 - that was an important part of the concept.

Alcoa says that the frame-and-panel structure is now suitable for production of up to 100,000 cars a
year, and that with the use of plastic external panels, and some other modifications it is suitable for
volumes of 200,000 cars a year, which includes most cars produced in Europe. The effect of the low
tooling cost on the viability of the concept for higher volumes is discussed in Chapter Six.

As for cost, Alcoa’s immediate target is to be able to produce a structure for a medium-size
American car for $1,800(980ECU), 50% more than the cost of a steel body of this size. This target
is close, and the next target is to match the cost of a steel body.

Ultra-lightweight sandwich panels

Whatever route is taken to the use of aluminium for body structures, extra weight can be saved with
the use of a novel material of sandwich construction based on two outer skins of aluminium and an
inner of plastic. Typical applications are for the outer panels of the bonnet, boot lid, roof and other
skin panels. Hoogovens Aluminium is one of the companies that has developed such a material, in
this case called Hylite. Hylite can be formed in the same way as conventional aluminium sheet, and
retains its shape up to 150oC, so it can be painted on-line and cured in normal paint curing ovens,
which are usually at about 150oC. However, it could not be used in the structure of the Audi A8,
which is heat-treated before being painted at over 200oC.

In its thinnest form, the sheet consists of aluminium skins 0.2mm thick, and a plastic core 0.8mm
thick, to produce a 1.2mm thick panel about 40% lighter than an aluminium panel of equal
thickness. A similar panel 2.4mm thick, is finding applications for sunroofs.

In the Access lightweight car being developed by NedCar, Reynolds Metals and some suppliers, the
bonnet outer skin is made from Hylite 1.2mm thick, while the inner panel is made from 1.0mm
thick aluminium - very thin for an aluminium panel. The roof is made from 2.4mm thick Hylite,
which is stiff enough to be self-supporting and to be bonded to the extruded aluminium frame
developed by Reynolds. The use of Hylite in these two applications saves over 15kg in weight.

Overall, there is no doubt that the innovative use of extrusions has opened up the way to aluminium
structures for cars for low and medium volumes - and for some cars that could not be produced
economically any other way. A hybrid, combining extrusions, pressings, plastic skin panels, and
possibly steel sub-frames is likely to become common for higher volumes once the industry has had
time to evaluate optimum approaches. The aluminium car has tremendous potential, offering
benefits to the manufacturers and users alike.


Production and experimental aluminium vehicles

Over the past 15 years, a number of experimental vehicles have been built with aluminium body
structures, as various manufacturers have investigated the benefits and problems with aluminium.
Typical of these, but completely different in type are the Porsche 928 and Rover Metro prototypes.
The Porsche 928 with aluminium body weighed 149kg against 280kg for the production car, a
weight reduction of 47%; the Metro body weighed 74kg against 137 kg, a reduction of 46%. These
two cars showed the potential benefits of using aluminium to reduce weight, and are close to the
theoretical weight reduction of about 50% quoted in Chapter Three. Since 1990, a few new-
generation aluminium cars have been built, of which the most important production cars are the
Honda NSX and Audi A8. Ford has built a group of 40 prototype aluminium cars, and Lotus has
started to produce a car in very low volume. In this Chapter, these vehicles and the advantages
compared with steel are discussed.

1. Honda NSX

The first car in recent years to take advantage of the all-aluminium structure was the Honda NSX, a
mid-engined high-performance sports car. Honda was intent on improving its image as a
high-technology leader, and also wanted to produce something different from other cars of this type.
Therefore, it adopted a mid-engine configuration for maximum performance; an aluminium body
structure to reduce weight; and a 3.0 litre naturally aspirated engine with variable valve timing.
Aluminium was considered the best of the materials that would lead to a significant weight

Had Honda adopted a steel body and conventional engine, the car would have been considerably
bigger and heavier, and would not have served to create the identity it did. Honda states that the use
of the aluminium body reduced the weight by 140kg, from 350 to 210kg, a weight reduction of
40%. Another 50kg of weight savings came from the chassis components. It is worth noting that
generally, the structures of mid-engine cars are heavier than those of front-engine ones so the NSX
is not a very light car.

Table 6.1

Honda NSX specification

Wheelbase 2,530mm
Track, front 1,510mm
Track, rear 1,530mm
Overall length 4,405mm
Overall width 1,810mm
Overall height 1,170mm
Kerb weight 1,365kg (manual transmission)
Engine 3.0 litre V-6, 270 bhp at 7,100 rpm

Source: Honda Motor

Safety regulations increase weight of mid-engined cars

The NSX is significantly lighter than either the Ferrari or Nissan, but is not remarkably light
because of the need to design the car for use in the USA and meet a whole host of regulations which
earlier cars did not. It also reflects the fact that this is Honda’s first car with an aluminium structure,
and no doubt if the car were being designed now it would be lighter.

Table 6.2

Comparison of weights of sports coupes, kg

Honda NSX 1,369

Ferrari 348tb 1,463
Nissan 300ZX 1,578

Source: Autocar & Motor

Honda has considerable experience of aluminium die-casting, and so it adopted castings for many
suspension components. However, the highly-stressed suspension links are forgings. Following
from racing experience, it adopted titanium connecting rods for the engine, since these offer a
weight reduction in a critical area. Aluminium is not yet considered a practical material for this

Table 6.3

Analysis of materials usage in Honda NSX

Component Material
Power train
Engine cylinder block Aluminium high pressure die-casting
Cylinder heads Aluminium low pressure castings
Connecting rods Titanium
Transmission housings Aluminium high pressure die-castings
Structure Aluminium
Cladding panels Aluminium, but with plastics nose, tail and sill covers
Seat frames Aluminium pressings
Front sub-frame Aluminium pressing and casting
Rear sub-frame Aluminium pressing and casting
Front hub carrier/upright Aluminium casting
Front suspension links
and compliant pivots Aluminium forgings
Rear hub carrier Aluminium casting
Rear suspension arms Aluminium forgings
Engine mounting brackets Aluminium castings

Body structure

The structure of the NSX is conventional for a pressed metal body for a mid-engined car except that
the deep D-section sills which are important structural members, are extrusions. They provide
substantial torsional stiffness, and also transfer frontal impact loads to the rear section of the body,
an important consideration for a mid-engine car, where the mass of the engine is behind the driver
and passenger.

Extruded double-box section sills

The extruded sills are a double-box section with three flanges and a lip on the outside of the
extrusion, and the wall thickness is nominally 2.5 mm. To produce pressed aluminium sills six
pressings would have been needed, so the tooling costs were much lower.

Detachable aluminium panels and some plastics mouldings

Panels with shallow curvature are bolted to the structure to form the wings, rear panels and bonnet.
The doors are also aluminium - but reinforced with steel side beams. However, although the NSX is
described as all-aluminium, plastics mouldings form the bumpers and front and rear skirt panels, the
sill covers, headlamp nacelles, rear spoiler and fuel filler lid. The front bumper and skirt make up
the whole nose of the car.

Table 6.4

Proportion of weight of different materials in conventional car and NSX, %

Conventional car NSX

Iron and steel 72.8 46.6

Aluminium 7.2 31.3
Other non-ferrous metals 2.6 2.6
Plastics 7.5 8.9
Others 9.9 10.6

Source: Honda Motor

Alloys suitable for forming and welding

To make the use of aluminium practical, Honda and its suppliers developed materials that could be
pressed more successfully than standard ones. A special lubricant was used to improve formability,
and more care than normal was found to be needed in handling the panels.

Special alloys, complying to the international standards, were developed for the NSX. These are
basically 5000 series alloys for internal members, and 6000 series alloys for the sills and external
panels. The alloys for the outer panels are made from newly developed 6000 alloys, which contains
the minimum amount of copper, and about 1% by weight of magnesium and silicon. These materials
were developed to improve formability and corrosion resistance.

Table 6.5

Material specification for aluminium panels in NSX

Japanese designation International

Internal body panels and members HA5182P-0 5182-0

Deep drawn internal members HA5052P 5052-0
Extruded sills HACF60S-T5 6N01
Bonnet, roof and boot lid HAZ6083P-T4 6009-T4
Wings and door panels HAMX29P-T4 600N-T4

Source: Honda Motor

These 6000 series alloys age-harden during the baking of the body in the paint ovens so that the
yield stress increases by about 50% and thus increases resistance to minor dents. Panels are 1.4 to
2.2 times as thick as steel - generally 1.2 mm thick - and the welding flanges were made as narrow
as practical, with the welds closer together than with steel.

Aluminium chassis components

In each NSX are 36 aluminium suspension components, including the sub-frames, and the use of
aluminium in this area can be emulated by other manufacturers seeking to reduce weight. Pressings
are used for some members of the sub-frames and there are eight A356 (ISO AlSi7Mg) castings.
The castings are used in the sub-frames, for the engine mounts and also for the front suspension
knuckles (uprights) and rear hub carriers.

Forgings of 6061 alloy are used for the more highly stressed suspension components, such as the
suspension arms and links, and the pivots and brackets for the compliant linkage of the front

Table 6.6

Weight saving with aluminium suspension components instead of iron and steel on Honda
NSX, kg
Aluminium Iron and steel

Front sub-frame 5.2 11.2

Rear sub-frame 19.7 33.7
Front suspension links and knuckle 8.94 21.24
Front compliant linkage 5.06 9.28
Rear suspension 10.06 22.34
Total 48.96 97.76

Source: Honda Motor

With the adoption of aluminium for all these suspension components, Honda reduced the weight by
49kg or 50%. This is a substantial saving that represents 3.7% of the weight of the complete car.
Since the NSX was developed, new and improved casting techniques have been introduced which
allow the forgings to be replaced by castings of one type or another, as shown in the case of the
Porsche 911.

Manufacture of the NSX is conventional in that almost all panels are pressed and then spot welded
together. Special care was needed in designing press tools and in handling the pressings, which are
fairly soft until they are age-hardened in the paint curing ovens. There is less automated welding
than in a high-volume plant, but most critical areas are welded by robot. In addition, Honda
developed lightweight welding guns so that operators would become less tired than with normal
guns. Owing to the rapid erosion of the tips of the welding electrodes, the tips need to be dressed
every hour, and the line is stopped automatically for this to be done. Therefore, the construction of
the NSX could be used for cars produced in larger volumes - but at a significant cost.

2. Audi A8

Audi introduced the A8 saloon in 1994, a move that took the company into the luxury car market,
where it competes directly with cars such as the BMW 7 Series and Jaguar XJ6. The total
investment in the project was DM1.0bn (544m ECU), with DM90m (48m ECU) being spent on
body welding equipment, and DM41m (22m ECU) to refurbish the assembly shop which had been
used formerly for Porsche 924s, a contract which finished some years ago.

With an overall length of 5.03m, the A8 is a full-size European luxury saloon. The engine is
installed longitudinally, driving to a transaxle mounted behind the engine. There are two models:
the A8 4.2 quattro, with four-wheel drive, and the A8 2.8, with front-wheel drive. Because theses
cars compete in the luxury car market they are well equipped, with ABS, electronic differential
locks and dual air bags as standard. The 4.2 litre car is also equipped with air conditioning and
insulating glass consisting of two layers 2.5mm thick separated by a plastic film. All this equipment
increases weight.

The car resulted from 12 years’ joint research by Audi and Alcoa into aluminium structures. As
discussed in the previous Chapter, the structure is a frame consisting of specially formed aluminium
extrusions, some of which are bent to complex curved shapes, connected to nodes formed by special
ductile die-castings. There are 43 extrusions and 47 pressure die-castings in the frame, and because
the extrusions are of complex shape, each replaces more than a one pressed member. Some of these
components are used on both sides of the car, so the extrusions are produced in 29 extrusion dies.
Sixteen are bent precisely to curved shapes. The use of these extrusions consolidates parts and
reduces the cost of tooling and assembly. For example, the sills are quite complex in shape and
include the wiring ducts, which would normally be separate.

In addition to these extrusions and castings are 212 pressings which include all the external panels
and the inner panels for the doors, boot lid and bonnet. The anti-intrusion beams in the doors are
made from aluminium extrusions. There are many small pressings; for example the front floor is
made up of three panels - a central tunnel and right- and left-hand panels, which are triangular in
shape. The dash panel consists of two pressings, as does the rear bulkhead. There are two stiffening
pressings between the front longitudinal member and the suspension top mounting casting. The
body consists of about 350 components, 25-30% less than in the steel Audi 100.

To produce the vacuum die-castings, Alcoa uses 31 sets of dies. The rigid but ductile castings are
placed where loads are highest, and they can be shaped to match the loads applied to the structure
more closely than is possible with a welded steel body. For example, the upper nodes in the front of
the frame not only serve as nodes between extrusions but also incorporate the top mountings for the

springs, and the pivots for the upper transverse links. The largest casting is one that forms the front
portion of the rear longitudinal member and the base of the C-post (rear pillar).

An indication of the precision with which these extrusions can be produced is gained from the
member forming the base of the windscreen; it is about 1.8m wide, and the ends are machined to
locate into another panel. It is bent to a gentle curve to a tolerance of -/+ 1mm on position in three
planes. The cantrails are also bent with great precision and, like the base of the windscreen, must
have a good surface finish, free of ripples. The rear longitudinal members that extend from the sills
inside of the rear wheels are also bent quite sharply.

Detachable impact absorbers

To absorb energy on impact, there are a pair of tubular longitudinal members at the front of the car
to which detachable members are fixed by bolts. The detachable members are designed to absorb
the impact of 15km/h collisions, and they can be replaced without the need for any welding or
damage to the sheet metal. The tubes then feed loads back into the structure, crumpling in major
impacts. Audi claims that they absorb energy in a more efficient way than is the case with steel;
indeed, its test show that an aluminium structure has the same energy absorption performance as a
similar steel structure weighing 2.7 times as much.

Also, in the event of a collision most panels can be removed and replaced without the need for
welding or cutting of the metal. Damaged members, such as the sill, can be cut out and a new
section welded in without the need to replace body panels. Therefore, repairs should generally be
cheaper than with conventional cars, whereas it is generally thought that aluminium cars must be
expensive to repair.

The external panels are pressed from Alusuisse Anticorodal-120, an optimised version of A6016,
which has good formability, and a surface free of stretcher-strain imperfections. The main additions
to the aluminium are silicon, 1.0-1.5%, and magnesium, 0.25-0.60%. It is supplied in heat-treated
condition (T4) which does not impair formability. After the body has been assembled, it is heated in
an oven for 30 minutes at 210oC to age-harden the sheet to T6. During this process, various areas
are clamped together to prevent distortion.

This treatment increases the tensile strength, and also prevents minor knocks from creating dents in
the panels. However, most car manufacturers would prefer an alloy that can be age-hardened in the
paint baking oven, as is the material used on the NSX.

The complete body-in-white, including all detachable panels weighs 248kg, compared with an
average of 400kg for a steel body of this size - a reduction of 40%. However, because the design of
a structure of this type can be optimised, the body is 40% torsionally stiffer than an equivalent steel
body, so the roadholding, insulation from noise, and general integrity of the car are improved. The
weight reduction of 40% is therefore combined with improved performance in impact absorption
and in rigidity.

Aluminium suspension links

Audi also adopted double wishbone suspension in which the individual links are aluminium, mainly
forgings. However, the front and rear suspension are each carried on pressed steel sub-frames. The
V-8 4.2 litre engine has aluminium cylinder block and heads, but the V-6 2.8 litre unit has a cast

iron block and aluminium heads - therefore the engine weighs 20-30kg more than it would with an
aluminium cylinder block.

Table 6.7

Specification of Audi A8 4.2 and BMW 740

Audi A8 BMW 740

Engine 4.2 litre V-8 4.0 litre V-8

Transmission Automatic with Automatic,
four-wheel drive rear-wheel drive
Overall length, mm 5,035 4,984
Overall width, mm 1,880 1,862
Overall height, mm 1,436 1,435
Wheelbase, mm 2,880 2,930
Track, front, mm 1,591 1,552
Track, rear, mm 1,580 1,568
Kerb weight, kg 1,750 1,840

Specifications of Audi A8 2.8 and BMW 730

Audi A8 BMW 730

Engine 2.8 litre V-6 2.8 litre six-cylinder

Transmission Manual with Manual
front-wheel drive rear-wheel drive
Overall length, mm 5,035 4,984
Overall width, mm 1,880 1,862
Overall height, mm 1,436 1,435
Wheelbase, mm 2,880 2,930
Track, front, mm 1,597 1,552
Track, rear, mm 1,586 1,568
Kerb weight, kg 1,460 1,670

Source: Manufacturers

Audi lighter than competing BMW models

The Audi A8 2.8 weighs 190kg less than the BMW 728, which is virtually the same size. Although
the BMW has an engine with an aluminium cylinder block, and the A8 a cast iron block, the Audi is
12.5% lighter. The Audi A8 4.2 is only 90kg lighter than the BMW 740, because it has four-wheel
drive, which would add about 150kg to the weight of a car of this size. A front-wheel drive version
of the A8 4.2 would weigh about 1,600kg, or 13% less than the BMW 740.

Clearly, the weight reduction of 40% in the body does result in a substantially lighter car. Audi
claims that the use of the lightweight aluminium body allowed its engineers to design lighter
components - called secondary weight reduction - and thus save 50-100kg, according to model.
Again, this secondary weight reduction confirms claims made by the proponents of aluminium

New method of manufacture

The method of manufacture of the body-in-white differs from normal. First, the extrusions are
mostly MIG welded together, whereas in conventional car bodies almost all panels are spot welded
together. There are about 70m of MIG welding in the A8, compared with about 7m in a
conventional car. On the other hand, there are only 320 spot welds, compared with 6,000 in a steel
car of this size.

Secondly, the body is assembled in a different way. Instead of the underbody being built as a
complete sub-assembly, the front end and rear ends are built into sub-assemblies and then joined
together with the floor to make the body almost complete. The roof is then added. Owing to the low
volume, and the fact that many parts are so small, only the front and rear sub-assemblies are MIG
welded by robot, with most MIG welding being done manually.

Self-piercing rivets replace spot welds

An innovation of some importance is that most panels are joined together by self-piercing rivets
produced by Henrob of the UK. Quite a number of rivets are inserted manually, such as those
joining two door inner panels together, but two robots insert rivets around the door apertures and
roof. There are 1,300 rivets and only 320 spot welds in the A8. Advantages of the use of rivets
include stronger joints - Audi states that the joint strength is 30% greater - and the ability to remove
rivets to replace a damaged panel easily. Advantages in the process include the lack of fumes or
noise, the lower energy consumption compared with welding, and of course, the elimination of the
need to dress welding electrodes frequently. Self-piercing rivets are used except where it is difficult
to reach the areas to be joined, such as in the middle of the floor.

Other methods of fixing include clinching and adhesive bonding of the bonnet, boot lid and door
inner and outer, and press-formed joints. In a press-formed joint, a cylindrical tool presses part of
the metal of one panel into the second panel providing a fairly weak joint. Press-formed joints are
used where it is desirable for the two panels to separate on impact to absorb the energy of a crash.

Manufacture of the body is therefore quite different from that of a conventional pressed steel body.
First, MIG welding is used between extrusions and castings; secondly, the sequence of construction
is based on modules, and not on an underbody; thirdly, self-piercing rivets are used for joining
panels together where practical; and fourthly, the panels are smaller than usual. Nevertheless, even
though this is a frame-and-panel structure, pressings account for 45% of the weight. Another
important factor is that the body can be assembled in a very small shop, much smaller than would be
needed for a unitary construction body. The investment in the body shop of 48m ECU was also low.

In the paint plant, there are very few differences. A tri-cation phosphate treatment, with zinc, nickel
and manganese, and the addition of fluorides was adopted for the aluminium cars, but can also be
used for the Audi A6 and coupe, which are built in the same plant. Final assembly is the same as for
other cars.

Overall, the Audi A8 is a conservative design, but nevertheless results in a car of light weight and
excellent performance. It enabled Audi to enter the luxury market at a relatively low cost. It is
certainly a trend-setter for in construction for low-volume European cars.

Lotus Elise

As mentioned in the previous Chapter, Lotus has adopted a simple extruded aluminium frame for its
new Elise, a compact mid-engined two-seater super-sports car, which like the Audi A8 is an
addition to the range, intended to increase the areas in which the company can compete. The car is
very small, being only 3.73 m long by 1.7 m wide. It has composite external body panels. The frame
consists of 40 extrusions, six aluminium panels and various brackets. A steel sub-frame bolted to
the end of the frame carries the rear suspension and transmission.

Among the extrusions that demonstrate the suitability of the process for chassis frames are short
rectangular members with two internal walls to carry the upper front spring mounts, the cross
member and end fittings that carry the door hinges, and the reinforcing beams for the doors. The
pedals and front suspension knuckles are also extrusions, in this case of a form patented by Lotus;
this is another example of what can be done with extrusions.
The frame itself weighs 65 kg, which is remarkably light, and is held together by a combination of
adhesive bonding and special drive-screws. These self-swaging and self-tapping drive screws,
supplied by Ejot, a specialist supplier in Germany, form-drill a hole in the panels, so that the length
of thread engagement is much longer than with normal self-tapping screws. Hydro Aluminium
Automotive Structures is supplying the complete frames to Lotus, at a projected rate of 700 a year,
but Lotus intends to use the process for cars produced in greater volumes in the future.

The brake discs are produced from MMC (metal matrix composite) aluminium supplied by Lanxide,
Delaware, USA. This is the first application of this material on a production car. The complete car,
which is powered by a 1.8 litre Rover K Series engine, weighs 675 kg.

Chrysler Prowler

Chrysler is to introduce the Prowler, a retro-styled sports car with front-mounted engine and rear
drive, this year, and plans to build the car at a rate of 5,000 units a year. The complete frame is made
from extrusions, and is to be built by Alcoa at Northwood, Ohio. The frame is simple, consisting of
a pair of rectangular section extrusions that run the complete length of the car, being curved
upwards over the rear suspension. There are a number of cross-members and brackets in the frame.
Most of the external panels are aluminium, and are to be supplied by Alcoa, and Henrob self-
piercing rivets are to be used to assemble the body.

Aluminium for suspension components

Porsche has been using aluminium suspension components for some time, but adopted aluminium
for all practical components in the new 911. The rear hub carriers are orthodox aluminium die-
castings, but the sub-frame consists of one extrusion, three gravity die-castings and two high-
pressure die-castings. The extrusion is bent to shape, while all castings are heat treated.

The suspension consists of five-links at each side and all links are heat-treated pressure squeeze
castings. They are inverted U-section with a number of internal reinforcing ribs to produce girders
of triangulated sections. The die-castings are produced from AlSi7Mg alloy and the high-pressure
castings from AlS10Mg(Fe0.3). In fact, in this special alloy, the iron content is limited to a
maximum of 0.3%.

Table 6.8

Progress in use of aluminium for Porsche chassis components

Model Weight of components in aluminium, %

928 23
968 29
911 38

Source: Porsche

Porsche quotes a weight saving of 35% for the chassis components, which includes the wheels, on
the 911, which amounts to 18kg.

Table 6.9

Weights of lower wishbone of Porsche 911 in different materials

Material and process Weight, g

High-pressure cast aluminium 750
Forged aluminium 1,100
Steel 1,300

Source: Porsche

Mazda RX-7 and others

Mazda followed a similar route with the RX-7, with the adoption of squeeze aluminium castings for
the rear hub carriers, upper front suspension wishbones, upper rear suspension wishbones and brake
callipers. The front and rear lower arms are forged aluminium, as is the rear tie-rod, while the front
suspension upright/hub carriers remain steel forgings. Front and rear sub-frames are also steel

On the Chevrolet Corvette, the upper and lower suspension arms are aluminium forgings, and the
hub carriers are aluminium castings. Other cars with aluminium suspension links, albeit forgings,
are the Saab 900, Toyota Supra and Lexus coupe and the Volvo 850.

On the Lincoln Continental MKVIII the lower suspension arms are aluminium die-castings, which
replace welded steel fabrications each consisting of eight pressings. To save weight, Ford changed
to a precision ductile iron casting first, but then moved to aluminium, which weighs 50% less than
the original steel arms. The arms are pressure die-cast from A356 (ISO AlSi7Mg) alloy heat-treated
to T61. Complete with bushes, the aluminium arm weighs 6.6kg, against 13.1kg for the steel arm, to
save 13.2kg per car.

BMW in production with aluminium suspension

The first company to adopt the general use of aluminium components on a car built in significant
volumes is BMW with the new 5 Series. BMW claims a weight reduction of 36% in chassis
components with the use of aluminium for the suspension sub-frames, suspension arms, and brake

callipers. The largest component is the rear sub-frame, which consists of two parallel cross members
connected by a pair of curved inclined longitudinal members. The sub-frame, which is mounted to
the body at four points, carries the final-drive unit and the suspension links.

The front cross member, which is curved forwards, and the longitudinal members are shaped by
hydroforming, in which hydraulic pressure is applied to the pre-bent tubes in a die to provide the
precise form required. The assembly is then pulse MIG welded together in a process that is 96%
automated. These operations are carried out by BMW in-house.

Each rear wheel is located by four links, one of which is formed from an aluminium pressing, and
two from aluminium forgings, while the trailing links are fabricated from aluminium tubes and end
fittings. Hub carriers are aluminium die-castings.

At the front, the sub-frame consists of a pair of castings and some tubes, while the suspension arms
are aluminium forgings. The steering knuckles are aluminium die-castings, and as at the rear, the
outer casings of the dampers are aluminium. Other aluminium components include the brake
callipers, and to reduce weight BMW has adopted wheels with spun aluminium rims and cast hubs
instead of one-piece castings.

With these changes, BMW has reduced weight by 65 kg, and so has been able to reduce the weight
of the new car compared with the old one, although the weight of the body structure has increased
by 10 kg. The 520i now weighs 1,410 kg against 1,445 kg for the previous model.

Aluminium bumpers

Another significant product is the aluminium bumper beam. The beams are needed to meet US
regulations on damage in low-speed collisions, and steel, aluminium and composites are used for
this application. The advantage of aluminium, of course, is the combination of light weight and
strength. However, to meet the requirements of customers, these beams need to be bent to match the
shape of the front and rear of the car. Reynolds Metals and Raufoss are among the leading suppliers
of aluminium bumper beams, which are extrusions, often with more than one void - in other words,
the beam consists of two box section members formed as one - and must be bent without wrinkling.

Reynolds Metals operates one plant in the Netherlands, and another in the USA to make these
bumpers, while Raufoss is in Norway. Raufoss forms most of the beams from 7021 or 7108 alloys,
and some are top-hat section, and others multi-void sections. It supplies bumpers for the some Audi
models, BMW 7 Series, Mazda RX-7 among others, at a rate of 2.5m a year. Raufoss also supplies
extrusions for instrument panel supports and anti-intrusion beams, and other aluminium
components, mainly forgings for suspension arms.

Concept and experimental cars

Toyota AXV-IVAt the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota showed an experimental lightweight car,
which although its engineers admitted was an impractical and expensive design, nevertheless
demonstrated how much weight can be eliminated once a car is designed for the use of new
materials. Called AXV-IV, the car was shown as a forerunner of the sporty commuter cars expected
in the next century. It is a fixed-head coupe of aluminium with some detachable panels produced
from carbon fibre composites.

The AXV-IV is a very small car, 3,400mm long by 1,600mm wide, and 1,205mm high, with a
2,300mm wheelbase and 1,420mm track. It is therefore the size of a one-litre hatchback, and
although called a four-seater is really a two-seater. To reduce the size and weight of the car, a
two-cylinder two-stroke engine of 804cm3 developed by Toyota was adopted. The complete vehicle
weighs 450kg, whereas a conventional car of this size would weigh about 700kg.

For the structure, Toyota adopted a stiff underbody with detachable cladding panels for the complete
front end. The structure is based on aluminium extrusions, some of which are straight and some of
which are bent. Extrusions are also used for the lower front pillars, screen pillars, front tunnel, roof
side rails, rear window frames and upper rear frame. The floor, roof and rear quarter panels are
incorporated in the structure, and there is a transverse tube to reinforce the fascia. The lower front
pillars are surmounted by aluminium castings, which form junction points for the screen pillars and

To enhance rigidity and noise insulation, the front bulkhead is made from foamed aluminium, while
the floor is made from honeycomb panels, in which a thin foil honeycomb is sandwiched between
two aluminium sheets. This is the first use of such formed honeycomb, which is a very expensive

Carbon fibre composite - also very expensive - panels serve as the bonnet, boot lid and door skin
panels. The door frames consist of thin magnesium die-castings which form the window frame and
a surround for the lower half of the door. Diagonal members are cast-in, and the extruded
magnesium impact beams are built into the frame.

The result of this design is that the body is constructed from only 100 components, one-third of the
number required for a steel body. Some of the reduction comes from the use of the honeycomb
panels, and the remainder from the use of castings and extrusions. The body shell weighs 103kg,
while external body panels weigh an additional 57kg.
To further reduce weight, Toyota adopted glass reinforced plastic springs, magnesium wheels, and
cast aluminium brake discs and drums. The suspension is unusual in that the quarter-elliptic leaf
springs provide longitudinal location for the wheels in conjunction with a pair of transverse links.
To enable the aluminium discs and drums to withstand the high temperatures and stresses, they were
plasma sprayed with MMC aluminium.

Table 6.10

Weight analysis of Toyota AXV-IV experimental car, kg

Body structure 103

External body panels 57
Interior trim, etc. 39
Engine 83
Drive train 37
Chassis components,
including brakes and suspension 82
Electrical system 26
Fuel, oil 23
Total kerb weight 450

The AXV-IV shows the potential weight reduction with a comprehensive approach to materials
selection and the design of the components to optimise weight reduction, even if some materials
used are prohibitively expensive. Nevertheless, most features point to the type of car that the more
adventurous manufacturers will start producing in the next ten years.

Ford Synthesis 2010

Following several years of research, Ford of the USA is committed to the use of aluminium
structures in the next century. It believes that for volumes of around 300,000 units a year, a unitary
body shell of aluminium is the optimum approach. It therefore built a concept car, Synthesis 2010,
as one of the stages toward the goal of the all-aluminium car by the year 2000. Ford has been
working with Alcan for a number of years, so its aluminium intensive vehicles (AIVs) are based on
the Alcan AVT technology, discussed in the previous Chapter.

The Synthesis 2010 built in 1992-3. It is based on the Ford Taurus, but it is made of aluminium, and
is shorter than the standard car. An Orbital 1,200cc two-stroke engine was installed instead of the
3.0 litre petrol engine. To optimise interior space, the engine compartment was reduced in length,
and the base of the windscreen moved forward 75mm compared with the standard Taurus. The
height of the bonnet was reduced by 50mm as well. The bumpers are integrated into the external
panels, so that the overall length of the car is reduced slightly. In addition, the shorter engine
compartment allowed the overall length to be reduced further, so that the car is 130mm shorter than
the standard Taurus.

Ford used 5754 alloy for the internal panels and structural members of the car, and a bake-hardening
6000 series alloy for the skin panels. Torsional rigidity is greater than that of a steel body.
Incidentally, Alcan now believes that the riv-bonded process, a combination of self-piercing rivets
and bonding, offers advantages over weld-bonding.

Apart from the use for the body structure and all external panels, a number of other means were
adopted to reduce weight. First, the brake discs and callipers are cast from Alcan’s Duralcan, an
MMC that has greater strength and resistance to high temperatures than normal aluminium. The rear
suspension control arms were made from aluminium extrusions, and the front suspension arms are
vacuum cast steel, a process that reduces weight compared with other methods of casting. The
wheels are cast magnesium.

The complete car weighs 1,000kg (2,200 lb), yet includes all normal equipment found on a US-built
Ford, such as power-assisted steering and air conditioning - a weight reduction of 30%. Without the
use of the smaller engine, the car would be longer and the transmission and chassis components
would all be heavier, so that the weight reduction would be 10-15%. Synthesis 2010 demonstrates
that to make the most of an aluminium structure, it is essential to down-size the power unit.

Body 46% lighter than Taurus

The weight of the body structure has been reduced by 46% - typical for an all-aluminium structure -
and the car is 98% recyclable. The Synthesis 2010 will accelerate from standstill to 60 mph in 13
seconds, a time which can be improved with optimised gearing. In practice, a larger engine would
be used for a car of this size - perhaps with a capacity of 1.5-1.6 litres - which would improve
performance without negating the benefits of the weight reduction of the systems.

Table 6.11

Dimensions of Ford Synthesis 2010 and Ford Taurus

Synthesis 2010 Taurus

Engine 1.2 litre V-6 3.0 litre
three-cylinder four-stroke
Overall length 4,750mm 4,880mm
Width 1,810mm 1,810mm
Height 1,370mm 1,370mm
Kerb weight 1,000kg 1,370kg

Both cars are equipped with air conditioning.

Ford builds 40 AIVs

Following the success of that project, Ford has built 40 AIVs that are identical with the 1994 Taurus
except that the body is made from aluminium using the Alcan ATV technology. These bodies of
these cars have the same weight saving as the Synthesis 2001, so the complete car is 11.6% lighter
than standard. They show what can achieved with direct substitution of aluminium for steel only.

Table 6.12

Weight comparison, Ford Taurus and Ford AIV Taurus, kg

Taurus AIV
Body structure 271 145
Detachable panels 101 53
Total 371 198
Car weight 1,486 1,313

Source: Ford Motor Co

Owing to the reduction in weight, the power:weight ratio of the car is improved, while a weight
reduction of 11.6% will improve overall fuel consumption by about 7%. However, because the car
is lighter, a smaller engine and transmission could be used to give the same performance - a 2.2 litre
engine and suitable power train would reduce the weight by a further 110kg.

Table 6.13

Hypothetical weight reduction of AIV, kg

Weight of 3.0 litre power train 295

Weight of 2.2 litre power train 215
Weight reduction 80
Weight reduction with aluminium suspension 35
Weight reduction 115
Weight of AIV car with 2.2 litre engine 1,198

This is a very conservative weight reduction, without taking into account any other components,
such as the smaller fuel tank, wheels and tyres and the use of MMC aluminium for the brake
callipers. However, this shows that once aluminium is adopted for the body structure, other
significant weight savings can be made. An AIV weighing 1,200 kg would return fuel consumption
about 11.5% lower than that of a standard steel car, which is a significant amount.

Electric vehicles: GM Impact

The GM Impact prototype electric car also has an aluminium structure, but because it is quite unlike
any other vehicle, no comparisons of weight can be given. The complete car weighs 1,360kg, and
the structure weighs 134kg. Since a steel structure would have weighed 260kg, a steel car would
have weighed 1,486kg.

A hybrid structure was adopted for the Impact, consisting of 124 aluminium pressings, 40
extrusions and four A356 (ISO AlSi7Mg) castings. The pressings weighed 104kg, the extrusions
24kg, and the castings 6kg. Production bodies based on aluminium pressings are likely to have this
proportion of extrusions incorporated, although some companies will avoid the use of castings. The
front longitudinal members that absorb the impact of a crash are almost certain to be extrusions or
tubes, because they perform better than box sections spot welded together.

Kaiser prototype

As part of the Calstart project to demonstrate the feasibility of an electric vehicle, Kaiser
Aluminium designed and built a frame constructed from extrusions. The design was tested by
simulation to ensure that the crash performance and other criteria were adequate before it was built.
Like many others, Kaiser also carried out a number of tests that demonstrated the consistency and
good performance of aluminium members of rectangular section in absorbing energy.
The extruded structure was constructed from 6000 Series alloys, and because Kaiser was concerned
about the inevitable loss of temper of the alloy in the region around welds it opted for adhesive
bonding. This approach required that the joints be designed with adequate surface area to ensure
good bonding, and some extrusions have a corrugated face to increase the surface area. There are 32
extrusions in the car, produced in 22 sets of extrusion dies. The dies cost $60,000 (32,000 ECU)
only, a fraction of the cost for a pressed steel frame. However, these tools were for prototype use
and not for a full production run.

Many of the extrusions are used on both sides, and there are a few pressings, such as the front
suspension towers. The windscreen pillars, cantrails, and front and rear main members and some
other extrusions were bent to shape. Approximately one litre of adhesive was used to join the
extrusions, and although the joints were considered adequate, the researchers felt that the
combination of adhesives and clinching or riveting might be preferable - as Lotus discovered in
developing the Elise.

Nissan combines extrusions and hydroforming

Nissan has also built some experimental cars with aluminium bodies, and the CQ-X concept car,
shown at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show, is an example of the method adopted. The CQ-X is based on
an extruded frame, but some of the extrusions are bent and formed by hydroforming, a technique in

which the component to be formed is placed in a die, and hydraulic pressure is applied to change the
shape - a rapid and flexible method.

It is possible to bend an extrusion consisting of a circular tubular form with two opposing tangential
flanges to form a curve, turn a flange locally, and form a depression in one face, all in one operation.
In addition, the basic circular form can be converted to a square section. In the Nissan CQ-X
concept car, the use of the extruded and hydroformed frame reduced the weight by 40% compared
with steel.

Both Chrysler and Mitsubishi have built aluminium versions of existing production cars. Chrysler
worked with Reynolds Metals to produce a Neon with an aluminium unitary construction body in
1994, and Mitsubishi built an aluminium version of its Galant in 1993. These confirmed the
potential for reducing the weight of a car body by 40-47% with aluminium.

Mitsubishi reduces car weight by 25%

The Mitsubishi Galant aluminium body weighed 37% less than the steel body, but with changes in
other areas, the weight of the car was reduced from 1,350 to 1,104kg a saving of 25%.The steel
content of the car decreased from 80% to 38%, and the aluminium content increased from 4% to
36%. There is no magnesium in the standard car, but in the lightweight car, 3% of the weight was
aluminium - 30kg, which is more than is likely with a production car in the near future,

NedCar Access

A realistic prototype of the lightweight family car of the future, Access was built by the engineering
department of NedCar, the Dutch joint venture between Volvo and Mitsubishi. About 20 leading
suppliers were involved in this project, which is part of the Eureka programme. Access is a compact
five-door hatchback, 4.23m long by 1.68m wide by 1.48m high - about the same length and width as
the Ford Escort four-door or the Rover 416 five-door, but about 120mm higher. It is powered by a
completely new 1.7 litre four-cylinder engine with aluminium cylinder block and head coupled to an
automated manual gearbox. The main innovation in Access is the use of an extruded aluminium
frame with plastic cladding panels, and also extruded aluminium suspension components. Much
effort was also made to reduce the weight and size of components and systems.

The project has so far been extremely successful, since the complete car weighs 850kg, against
1,150kg for a typical production car of this size. For comparison, the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 litre
three-door base model weighs 850kg, and is 3.73m long by 1.61m wide - in fact, its overall volume
is about 20% less than that of the Access. The Ford Escort 1.6 litre four-door saloon, which is about
the same size as Access weighs 1,085kg, so the Access shows a weight reduction of 21% - sufficient
to improve fuel consumption significantly. Since the engine develops 110bhp, the performance of
such a light car will be excellent.

As in the Audi A8, the body consists of a frame of extrusions, many of which are precision-bent to
provide the curved shapes needed - such as for the cantrails, screen pillars, B and C-posts. Unlike
the A8 frame, however, there are no castings. All the 37 extrusions, which are supplied by Reynolds
Metals, are TIG welded together. There are also a number of aluminium panels in the structure,
while the roof and bonnet outer panel are made from Hoogovens Hylite, a sandwich material
consisting of a core of plastics twice as thick as the thickness of the two outer skins of aluminium.
To gain sufficient stiffness, the Hylite bonnet has an inner panel of aluminium.

Plastic external vertical panels

All the vertical external panels, such as the wings and bumper fascias are injection moulded from
Stapron-N, a nylon/ABS blend produced by DSM, which produced the wings and bumper fascias.
Owing to its low coefficient of expansion, Stapron-N is said to allow narrower gaps between panels
than other materials suitable for this purpose. Reynolds Metals produced extruded aluminium door
frames, which are clad with Stapron-N outer panels, and ABS internal panels. A similar concept
was adopted for the construction of the tailgate.

Extruded aluminium suspension

Aluminium extrusions are also the basis of the suspension. At the front, the strut suspension and the
rack and pinion steering unit are carried on a sub-frame made from extrusions supplied by Raufoss
Automotive, while the suspension arms, which are approximately triangular, were produced by
Reynolds Metals in the form of innovative extrusions. Each arm consists of a lattice consisting of a
vertical wall around the periphery with a number of internal stiffening ribs. A slice of the extrusion,
about 25mm thick, forms the arm. One pivot is vertical, and a stud is inserted into the other end to
carry a compliant bush for the other joint.

At the rear, an H-axle, which twists to resist roll, is used. The axle beam is an x-section extrusion
welded to rectangular section arms. Extruded aluminium hub carriers, isolated from the arms by
rubber bushes, provide compliance. Raufoss Automotive supplied the rear suspension.

Compact, lightweight engine

Also newly designed for Access is the four-cylinder 12-valve single ohc engine designed to give
rotary swirl at low speeds, when one inlet port is closed, and tumbling swirl at high speeds. Power
output is quoted as 110bhp.Like the Rover K Series, the cylinder block, head and bearing cap ladder
frame are through-bolted to ensure that main loads on the castings are compressive. Evidently, the
use of through-bolt construction, thin wall castings and a single ohc, were important in achieving
the weight of the complete engine, with alternator, of only 92kg. Another important feature is the
variable length intake manifold, which is combined with the filter housing in a stack of reinforced
nylon mouldings supplied by Mecaplast.

Other interesting features of Access include the use of multiplexed wiring and electric power
assisted steering.

Specification NedCar Access prototype

Engine 1.7 litre four-cylinder, with three valves per cylinder
Material of cylinder block
and head Aluminium
Engine weight 92kg
Transmission Automated manual gearbox
Body construction Extruded aluminium frame, welded together with some
aluminium panels, and mostly plastic external panels
Suspension Strut front suspension with twisting axle rear suspension
arms and sub-frame constructed from aluminium extrusions

Overall length 4,230mm
Width 1,680mm
Height 1,480mm
Wheelbase 2,730mm
Kerb weight 850kg

The Access car clearly shows that with a holistic approach to design based on the use of aluminium
extrusions, a weight reduction of about 20% can be achieved compared with a conventional car. In
addition, because Access is taller than conventional cars, interior space is greater, and is probably
equivalent to a car with an overall length of about 4,400mm and a kerb weight of 1,200kg.


These prototypes and production cars demonstrate that an aluminium body is 40-47% lighter than a
steel one, even when designed to have improved torsional stiffness and crash performance. With
refinement of the design, weight reductions of 47-53% are likely in the next five years. It is also
clear that to gain the benefits of parts consolidation, extrusions will be used in all aluminium
bodies; where pressings predominate, extrusions will be used for the sills, cantrails and a few
specialised components. Extrusions can be welded by robot so long as the volume of production
warrants it.

To improve the quality of joints between pressed panels and ease of repair, self-piercing rivets will
be used widely. Where a unitary construction body is used, riv-bonding is likely to be used instead
of weld-bonding.

Paths to weight reduction

Aluminium sub-frames and suspension members can reduce the weight of these components by up
to 50%, and 30-40%, or 60kg is a realistic weight reduction on a large car.

To reduce the weight of the car sufficiently to improve fuel consumption, an aluminium cylinder
block and aluminium chassis components are a start - saving about 60kg on a two-litre car. But to
make the change really worthwhile, an aluminium or aluminium and magnesium structure is
needed. To make the most of the new technology, more complex shapes need to be adopted for
extrusions - such as one developed to form a suspension tower by Porsche - and improved forming
techniques are required. The aim is to reduce the number of components in the body, and this can be
achieved by the use of extrusions that are bent, and the section altered, probably by hydroforming.
In this way, one extrusion could be formed to replace two or three in the body now. Such moves are
under way.

Benefit of low tooling cost

The need to invest about 120m ECU for a new unitary construction body is one of the major
limitations affecting the automotive industry. The high cost prevents companies introducing as wide
a range of models as they would wish, and makes the cost of replacing or modifying an unsuccessful
model prohibitively high. In addition, despite improved design with simultaneous engineering,
manufacturers still find that they need to make changes to some of the dies within the first two years
of the life of a car. Major changes are made after four or five years, and a completely new vehicle is
introduced every eight or nine years.

Therefore, the theoretical cost of 120m ECU is more like 130m ECU in the first two years, and
150m ECU over five years. By contrast, the tooling cost for the frame of the Audi A8 was 18m
ECU, and although new tools are required about every two years, the cost is very low. Tooling for
the complete body was about 42m ECU. For a car consisting of extrusions and panels only, the
tooling would be far lower than that for the A8.

Table 6.14

Tooling costs for different methods of construction, million ECU

Total volume, m 0.1 0.5 1.0 2.0

Annual volume 20,000 100,000 200,000 400,000
1.Extrusions with
castings and panels 42 64 96 160
2.Extrusions andpanels only 32 37 47 66
3.Unitary construction 120 120 130 160

The greatest element of the tooling cost is that for the pressed panels, even where a frame of
extrusions is used. In these cases, it is assumed that the tooling cost for aluminium panels in the cars
with frame-and-panel construction is about 25% of that for a unitary construction car. Of course,
tooling cost can be kept to lower levels with the use of flat and folded panels for most hidden
members, and plastic external panels.

Tooling for panels and frame about 42m ECU

In the case of the car with a frame of extrusions and castings, the tooling for the body panels is
about 30m ECU, against 12m ECU for the frame. For low-volume applications, where the tooling
cost is critical, a frame constructed of extrusions only has a far lower cost than one with castings - in
fact the tooling for castings costs about ten times as much as that for extrusions. Over a life of
250,000 cars, the tooling costs for a frame made entirely of extrusions is, in automotive industry
terms, almost negligible at around 3m ECU. In terms of tooling costs, there are four alternatives:

1. Frame-and-panels, with the frame constructed from extrusions only;

2. Frame-and-panels, with the frame constructed from extrusions and
3. Unitary construction with sills, cantrails and some other members made from extrusions, and
possibly with some castings to replace complex pressed sub-assemblies;
4. A full unitary construction body without any extrusions or castings.

Table 6.15

Tooling cost per car for different constructions, ECU

Total volume, m 0.1 0.5 1.0 2.0
Annual volume 20,000 100,000 200,000 400,000
1.Extrusions with
castings and panels 425 130 100 80
2.Extrusions and panels only 320 75 50 35
3.Unitary construction 1,200 240 130 80

In all cases, it is assumed that the car will be rebodied, or at least retooled, after five years. In fact,
for cars produced in volumes of up to 50,000 a year, the body is usually redesigned at longer
intervals - six to ten years - with some minor changes being made after three-to-five years.

Significantly, if tooling cost only is the criteria for selecting a method of construction, it appears that
the frame-and-panel construction is preferable up to over 300,000 units a year. In practice, because
more small components need to be handled in the construction of a frame, labour and handling costs
may be higher than with unitary construction, and fro this reason, manufacturers consider the
volume at which a unitary construction becomes economic is 100,000-125,000. Another factor is
that manufacturers are less familiar with MIG than with spot welding and generally consider it an
expensive process. They expect the cost of fixtures and handling to be high. In fact, because the
extrusions are stiff compared with pressings, they do not distort with heat like thin panels, so MIG
welding and fixturing is simpler than with pressings of either steel or aluminium.

It is only with the high-volume models that the tooling cost for a unitary construction can be
justified, and in many cases, owing to the greater flexibility inherent with extruded frames, the
frame concept is still superior. Of course, in all cases, fairly expensive tooling is required for the
external panels, but the use of injection mouldings reduces the tooling costs because one set of dies
only is needed for each panel, against five or six for metal. Handling costs with moulded panels are
also lower.

In fact, the tooling cost for the frame itself stabilises at a total volume of about 500,000 units - an
annual rate of about 100,000 - because the tools need to be renewed regularly. On the other hand,
the tooling cost for each unitary construction body continues to reduce as volume increases to a total
volume of 3.0m units or 600,000 a year.

Since the aluminium frame has been shown to have substantial benefits, particularly for volumes up
to 200,000 a year - which are common in Europe - it is being adopted for a range of new products.
Unitary construction with aluminium has less attractions, and it is more likely that aluminium
superstructures will be combined with steel underbodies for big volumes.

Of course, there is no reason why the complete car should be made of one material, and there is a
trend toward the use of thermoplastic vertical detachable panels, such as the wings and door outer
panels. Also, because magnesium produces excellent large castings with thin walls and long die life,
it is likely to be featured in some cars based on the frame-and-panel construction.

In either case, it is clear that because aluminium offers so much to users of cars, society and the
environment, it will be used more, and it would be in the interests of the EU for its use - particularly
in the form of frame-and-panel - construction to be encouraged.


The environmental impact of greater use of aluminium

In the complete cycle from mining to recycling, aluminium is an environmentally friendly material,
although mining does leave ugly scars on the land until repaired. As in the production of most
materials there are some processes that need to be controlled carefully to avoid pollution.

Bauxite is mined in open-cast mines, and an area of land is laid bare for five to ten years, and then
trees and plants are re-established. Most countries have regulations on the operations of such mines,
and usually, mining is permitted only in strips, so that there is an area of untouched land between
mining areas. This approach results in less destruction and easier reclamation.

To convert the bauxite into aluminium oxide, an alkali solution developed by Bayer is used. The
residue consists largely of oxide and hydroxides of iron and silicon, and alkaline compounds of the
Bayer liquid. The predominant residue of the process is the red mud, which amounts to about 60m
tonnes a year, compared with 200m tonnes of blast furnace slag from the production of crude iron.

The red mud is recovered in large basins, and for environmental and economic reasons, the alkaline
content is recovered for reuse in the Bayer process. There have been problems in the past with the
alkaline content of the sludge harming the environment, but with the removal of most of the alkali,
revegetation can be carried out. There is no significant use for the red mud.

Untreated smelters emit pollutants

Emissions from untreated aluminium smelters include fluorides, dust, sulphur dioxide and tar.
However, air pollution regulations have led to a significant reduction in emissions, with the use of
equipment such as scrubbing of fluorides and sulphur dioxide. The reduction in emissions for the
Graenges smelter at Sundsvall, Sweden, show the progress that has been made.

Table 7.1

Reduction in pollutants emitted by Sundsvall smelter, Sweden, kg/tonne of aluminium

1970-73 1989
Fluorides 3 0.9
Dust 11 2.5
Sulphur dioxide 8 3.0
Tar 3 0.3

Source: Graenges Aluminium

In the rolling process, the only undesirable element is the lubricating oil, and this can be recycled.
To do so, the oil needs to be filtered from the air in the plant, and the surplus liquid recovered - 80-
90% can be recovered economically. The extrusion process is noisy, owing to the use of high-speed
saws, and there is some oil involved in the process.

Aluminium foundries relatively clean

Aluminium foundries are inherently cleaner than iron foundries owing to the absence of green sand
which burns and also tends to be dissipated into the air in the sand removal area. Sand casting of
aluminium does involve the production of some fumes at the pouring stations, but these are
minimal. Fumes are also created when the resin is melted out of the casting, but this is all ducted to
a furnace where it is burnt to heat the oven. Not only is the environment unaffected, but the heat
from the resin can provide 50% of the energy required to heat the oven.

Environmentally, gravity die-casting shops are similar to modern sand casting foundries because the
more complex castings, such as cylinder heads, have sand cores. The cleanest environment is in a
pressure die-casting foundry since there are no sand cores. Care is needed in providing adequate
extractors around the dies, however, to remove the lubricants applied to the dies.

Overall, the production of aluminium, with suitable controls for the smelters, is a relatively
environmentally friendly process.

Pollution needs to be controlled in recycling

The recycling process can pollute the atmosphere in a number of ways, and controls are needed.
First, the shredding and fragmentation processes are noisy, so noise damping materials need to be
installed. Delacquering and remelting both discharge fumes, and unless care is taken, dioxins can be
released. To avoid these emissions, which are potentially dangerous, the processes need to be
selected with care, and if necessary purification processes adopted. For example, the use of higher
temperatures in combustion with the injection of lime into the flue gases can reduce emissions of
dioxins drastically.

Oxide particles and flux residues are included in the gases emitted during recycling, as are vaporised
remains of rock salt and reaction products from chlorination which need to be collected by wet or
dry filtration. Chlorination also causes acid gases to be emitted, and these need to be filtered and
neutralised with the aid of sodium hydroxide or lime. Salts in the process are best cleaned and

The energy cost of aluminium

Although aluminium requires more energy to produce than steel, its whole life costs are superior. In
addition, because aluminium can be resmelted at a lower temperature than steel, recycling costs are
lower. Therefore, if the energy cost of aluminium includes the use of the material not only for the
life of the first product, but also for the life of the product made from the recycled aluminium, then
the energy costs are very low. Indeed, if a car body is produced from 60% secondary aluminium, the
energy cost equals that of a steel body.
In this Chapter, however, the whole life costs are for the first use of the metal only. Whole life costs

The complete cost of manufacture and assembly;

The energy cost to move the weight of the unit during its life - usually considered to be 150,000km;
The cost of maintenance, repairs and accident repairs;
The residual value of the material when the car is scrapped.

If the weight of the vehicle is reduced, the overall energy cost of the vehicle throughout its life falls,
and this of course is a compelling reason for the use of aluminium. However, because aluminium is
resistant to corrosion, the life of the body - particularly if clad in detachable plastic panels - before it
needs to be scrapped increases. Statistically, cars in western Europe travel about 15,000km a year,
so the life of the vehicle is about ten years, but owing the large number of accidents in which cars
are damaged beyond repair, the average is probably about eight years.

Although corrosion treatments of steel cars have improved, the corrosion resistance of an
aluminium car is greater - perhaps 15 years is a realistic life, and 13 years allowing for accidents.
Owing to the reliability of mechanical units, and the ease with which they can be replaced with
reconditioned units, aluminium cars can be expected to be used longer than steel ones. The greater
rigidity and consequence absence of noise and vibration will make older aluminium cars more
pleasant to drive than old steel ones.

Theoretically, therefore, the aluminium car should stay on the road longer than a steel one, and
when scrapped, a larger proportion of the car can be recycled than with steel. However, since there
is no hard evidence for these probabilities, an equal life is considered in these whole-life costs.

Before embarking on the A8 project, Audi did some research that showed that aluminium offered
advantages owing to the reduced fuel consumption over the life of the vehicle, and the ease of

Most of the estimates of energy balances for materials have been made by vested interests, but some
of the most useful ones were produced by S Schaper of Audi. His figures show that the energy
required to produce components from the main materials differed markedly.

Table 7.2

Energy costs to produce a component of equal volume

Material Energy, kJ/cm3

Steel 316
Aluminium 617
Magnesium 650
Nylon 66 177
Glass-filled nylon (25% glass) 177
High-density polyethylene 72

Source: S Schaper, Volkswagen Audi Group

As shown in Chapter Three, for equal stiffness, 1.44 times the volume of steel is needed in an
aluminium replacement, so the actual energy cost of aluminium for equal stiffness is three times that
of steel. Even so, owing to the weight reduction obtained with aluminium, the energy cost of
aluminium for 100,000km is about one-third less than that of steel.

Table 7.3

Relative energy cost over 100,000 km for components of equal stiffness

Material Relative energy cost/100,000km life

Steel 1.00
Aluminium 0.71
Magnesium 0.66
Nylon 0.81
Glass-filled nylon 0.66
High-density polyethylene 0.79

Source: S Schaper, Volkswagen Audi Group

These figures show clearly that over the whole life of the car, steel is an expensive material. These
figures assume that equal stiffness is required, whereas many covers, reservoirs, and even external
body panels do not need to be as stiff as steel. Therefore, the balance is even more favourable to
lighter materials.

For applications where stresses are low, such as in a detachable body panel, the energy cost of
plastic is lower than aluminium - about 550kJ/cm3 compared with 880kJ/cm3 for aluminium.

R L Ballard of the Aluminium Federation in the UK also showed that over the life of the car,
aluminium is an efficient user of energy, despite its high initial cost.

Table 7.4

Distance required to amortise the use of aluminium in cars

Component Original Distance needed to

material amortise energy cost
Cast aluminium housing Cast iron 19,700 km
Casting Sheet steel 0 km
Component Sheet steel 39,000 km

Source: R L Ballard, Aluminium Federation, UK

Ballard assumed that 75% of the material for the casting would be secondary aluminium, which is
typical - many foundries use 100% secondary aluminium. For this reason, the true energy cost of
aluminium castings is usually no more than 25% of the energy required to smelt the aluminium in
the first place.

Alcoa has also produced some figures based on 50% recycling which indicate that for aluminium
body structures and panels the energy costs are lower than those for steel if the car is used for only
32,000km. Cars that are damaged beyond repair in the early stages of their life are the only ones that
fail to meet this criterion.

Research carried out for this report confirms these benefits. The energy required to produce steel is
32MJ/kg, and that for aluminium is about 150MJ/kg, according to the Professor Eyerer of the
University of Stuttgart. However, Graenges Aluminium states that in countries such as Sweden,

where hydro-electric energy is used, only 126MJ/kg is required. Evidence to date shows that an
aluminium body is 47% lighter than steel, reducing the weight of the car by about 12%. With a
slightly smaller engine and some aluminium suspension components, the weight can be reduced to
20%, and the further use of aluminium can reduce weight by 25%.
In the following examples, a car weighing 1,300kg and with a fuel consumption on the European
composite test - the 1/3 Euromix - of 8.8l/100km, is taken as the average European car. With an
aluminium body, (called Aluminium 1) the weight is reduced to 1,140kg, or 12% and with further
use of aluminium to 1,040kg (Aluminium 2), a 20% reduction is obtained. The reduction in fuel
consumption of the aluminium cars is 8% and 14% respectively.

Table 7.5

Energy balance for aluminium and steel cars, MJ

Production In use Total Saving, %

Steel 20,200 475,800 496,000
Aluminium 1 35,800 437,800 473,600 4.5
Aluminium 2 39,300 409,200 448,500 9.5

The first significant point is that the energy cost of producing the metal components is low
compared with the total energy cost throughout the life of the car - less than 10% in the most
energy-intensive car. Therefore, almost any savings in fuel consumption are beneficial to the overall
balance. As shown, the energy cost of the aluminium cars are lower - by 4.5% and 9.5% for
Aluminium 1 and Aluminium 2. Professor Eyerer of the University of Stuttgart found that the
aluminium car breaks even with a steel on in energy consumption after about 55,000km. Professor
Schaefer, Technical University of Munich, suggests that 79,000km is the break even point.

In all cases, it is clear that the aluminium car has a lower whole-life cost than steel, and therefore its
production should be encouraged.

The cost balance for these two versions of the aluminium car is also favourable, based on fuel costs
in Germany of about DM1.5/litre (0.82ECU). In this case the cost of the raw materials is doubled to
allow for processing costs.

Table 7.6

Cost of producing material and saving in fuel used for steel and aluminium bodies, ECU

Prod- Fuel Saving Total

uction cost in fuel Saving
Cost of steel body and compone 283 10,790
Aluminium 1 536 9,920 870 610
Aluminium 2 593 9,280 1,510 1,200

The figures in Table 7.6 compare the cost of producing the steel body and suspension components
with the two aluminium cars - one with an aluminium body only, and the other with some secondary
aluminium components. The user benefits over a ten-year lifespan of the car, but at the rate of 61 or
120 ECU per annum, which is not sufficient encouragement in view of the energy savings, although

it does amount to 8 and 14% respectively. Of course, with a Carbon tax, which could be guaranteed
to replace some of the VAT in all EU states, the saving to the user would be increased.

CO2 emissions lower over the life cycle

In terms of CO2 emissions, the balance also favours aluminium more because the amount of CO2
emitted in the production process is closer to that of steel - 2.7kg/kg aluminium and 1.8kg/kg steel,
according to Graenges Aluminium.

Table 7.7

CO2 emissions in production and use for steel and aluminium cars, kg

Production In use Total Reduction (%)

Steel 900 41,200 42,100

Aluminium 1 750 37,900 38,650 3,500 (8)
Aluminium 2 700 35,400 36,100 6,000 (14)

Again, the amount of CO2 emitted in production of the metal is insignificant, and the aluminium car
is responsible for less emissions in its life - by 3,500kg and 6,000kg, equivalent to 8% and 14%
respectively. Professor Eyerer of the University of Stuttgart compared the CO2 emissions for the
complete car, and found that production of the aluminium car requires 152-163GJ compared with
127GJ for the steel car. He found that the aluminium car breaks even with steel on CO2 emissions
at 90,000km, and that if 60% of the aluminium is secondary aluminium, the CO2 emissions in
production are equal to those of a steel car.

Recycling costs

Ease of recycling is important in the manufacturing plant as well as at the end of the life of the
product. Materials that can be remelted simply and retain the mechanical properties of the original
material are at a big advantage. Steel scrap can be used in iron foundries, but since these are rarely
at the same site as car body plants this is not usually done. Instead, scrap is returned to the steel
works or sold to specialists for recycling, and owing to the higher melting temperatures required, the
energy cost of recycling is higher than for aluminium.

Rejects and runners and risers can be remelted and reused directly in both aluminium and iron
foundries, but offcuts of sheet are returned to the supplier or a specialist for remelting and reuse.
Thermoplastics injection mouldings can be recycled directly in-house, but thermosetting materials
such as the resins used for glass reinforced plastic cannot be recycled economically.

Recycling at the end of the life of the product is now seen as essential, and well over 90% of cars
are recycled in western Europe, although the amount of materials recovered varies widely, and
depends on the value of the scrap. Already, however, large amounts of recycled aluminium are used.
As mentioned earlier, most aluminium automotive castings are produced from 50-75% secondary
aluminium, and about 65% of aluminium cans are recycled in some countries. In Sweden, of the
approximate annual consumption of aluminium of 200,000 tonnes, some 125,000 tonnes were
recycled metal - over 60%.

Owing to its resistance to corrosion, aluminium from old cars - 10-15 years old - is recovered
successfully and reused. Because it has relatively high value, aluminium is an attractive product for

The amount of energy required to remelt aluminium is 5% that to produce primary metal, and extra
energy is incurred in removing paint, adhesives and sealers. In fact, general improvements in
operating methods have reduced the amount of energy required to remelt aluminium significantly
since 1975, when the energy crisis changed the attitude to energy use. For example, in the UK, the
average amount of energy required to remelt alloy has been reduced from 13,000MJ/tonne in 1975
to 9,000 in 1994, a reduction of 30%.

Some energy is also required to turn the recycled aluminium into a product, and the total energy cost
of a component produced from recycled aluminium is about 15MJ, or 10% that of a component
produced from primary metal. Of course, the financial cost of the recycled part does not reflect this
situation because recycled aluminium commands a high price - about 75% that of virgin 99.7% pure

Recycling is already well proven in the beverage can recycling plants, some of which are virtually
self-sufficient in material use now. In addition, the tops and sides of the cans are of different types
of alloys and these are separated successfully. This process can be used for car structures and panels,
and theoretically, aluminium could be used ten times or more to produce body panels.

When a car is scrapped, it is crushed and fragmented into small blocks about the size of a tennis
ball, and then aluminium is selected from steel and iron either manually, with operators relying on
the appearance of the metal, or by automatic media selection. In the simplest machine, the media
floats according to its density and in this way primary metals such as steel, copper and aluminium
are separated. This method is currently successful because most aluminium in cars is in the form of
castings, and all the scrap can be used to produce casting ingots.

Alloying elements of recycled metal to change

In the UK, about 65,000 tonnes of aluminium are currently recycled from cars, and the average
contents of the alloying elements are very close to LM24 (ISO Al-Si8Cu3Fe) so this is very
convenient for recyclers. However, it is forecast that once aluminium bodies make up a significant
proportion of the scrap, the contents of alloying elements will change significantly.

Table 7.8

Proportion of alloying elements in scrap aluminium in the UK, 1995 and later
Proportion of alloying elements, %
1995 Estimate for 2000
Silicon 7.0 0.8
Copper 2.7 0.2
Magnesium 0.3 0.75
Manganese 0.3 0.2
Zinc 1.5 Trace
Iron 1.1 0.3
Source: Graeme Hoyle, formerly Warwick University

Aluminium containing the proportion of alloying elements expected by the year 2000 cannot be
used readily, so separation into types of alloy will be necessary. There are various approaches to this
problem. To improve the efficiency of recycling cars, many manufacturers are developing ways of
dismantling them. For example, if the power train can be removed and crushed separately, a large
proportion of the casting alloys would be contained in one stream. Aluminium bodies consisting of
sheet or sheet and extrusions can also be handled together since the alloys are similar. However, the
aluminium components of bodies that include castings, such as the Audi A8, will need to be
separated, or the recycled material is likely to be suitable for casting alloys only.

Separating alloys by laser spectroscopy

One method of separating alloys is by laser spectroscopy. A leader in this field is Sortec of
Frankfurt, which took over the technology developed by Metallgesellschaft. To separate the
particles of metal, a conveyor system, laser detection and processing system and a separation device
are used. The preliminary conveyor ensures that only one piece of metal passes the detector at a
time. A focused laser beam is directed at the metal, and the reflected light is fed to the spectograph.
Following problems with filters in the initial sorting device, Sortec has now developed a system in
which light is transmitted by optical fibres to the spectograph and photomultipliers. This system is
said to be robust and suitable for dusty conditions.

It is necessary to clean and delacquer aluminium before it is supplied to the Sortec machine, and the
company estimates that the biggest maintenance cost is the replacement of the laser head, which
lasts one or two years. The cost of the complete system, including the cleaning and delacquering
machine is about DM1.0m, and the replacement cost of the laser head is DM15,000. Including
shredding, the company puts the cost of separating aluminium into its alloys at DM350/tonne.

At the end of 1995, old cast scrap cost DM1,600/tonne in Germany, whereas aluminium alloys were
priced at DM2,500. For the use of a Sortec machine to be economic, the scrap metal merchant needs
to be able to obtain a higher price for the material than it would otherwise. With precise shredding,
and a stream of suitable material, it is theoretically possible for the operator to increase the price of
scrap by DM600-800. Nevertheless. this represents a high investment for a scrap metal merchant,
and until these machines are proven, the market for precisely recycled scrap will not exist. In due
course, the price of this type of machine will decrease, and it will become practical to separate
aluminium into different alloys. This will take time, but in any case it is not likely that aluminium
cars will be available in substantial volumes for recycling until around 2007 at the earliest.

Even without this type of sorting machine, aluminium is proving to be easily recycled, and able to
retain the full performance after recycling. A very small proportion, at most a few per cent, of the
alloy is lost through oxidation during the remelting process, so aluminium cannot be considered a
completely regenerating material.

Reduced road damage with aluminium

One of beneficial side effects of the widespread use of aluminium for bodies will be reduced road
damage owing to the smaller amount of metal shipped from raw materials suppliers to the car
manufacturers. A typical European car plant produces 300,000 cars a year, starting with the pressing
of sheet steel into panels. The amount of metal shipped is far greater than might be expected

because, to produce a car body weighing 400kg, about 750kg of steel must be delivered to the
factory, and 350kg of scrap metal are shipped back to the steel mill.

Table 7.9

Estimate of shipments of metal for a car plant producing 300,000 cars a year

Steel body
Weight of steel shipped to car plant 225,000 tonnes
Net weight of steel in bodies 120,000 tonnes
Weight of steel shipped back as scrap 105,000 tonnes
Total annual shipment 330,000 tonnes
Aluminium body
Weight of aluminium shipped to plant 105,000 tonnes
Net weight of aluminium in bodies 63,000 tonnes
Weight shipped back as scrap 42,000 tonnes
Total annual shipment 147,000 tonnes

For cars with structures made of extrusions, the annual shipments would be lower since extrusions
will usually be shipped ready formed and machined. However, the significant point is that with an
aluminium structure, the annual shipments to and from a typical car plant would be cut from
330,000 tonnes to 147,000 tonnes a year, a reduction of 183,000 tonnes a year or about 750 tonnes
less a day. Were 50% of the cars produced in the EU to be made from aluminium, the reduction in
shipments would amount to 3.66m tonnes a year or 15,500 tonnes each working day.

Such a change affecting all the areas in the EU where cars are built would reduce road damage in a
major way. At plants where the bodies are made from pressings only, the actual volume of material
shipped would not be reduced as much because the sheet aluminium would generally by 50%
thicker than the steel shipped currently. However, the volume of material sent for bodies with
extruded frames would be reduced significantly.

The reduction in road or rail transport loads is not a trivial matter, because the automotive industry
and its suppliers ship components and materials great distances to gain economies of scale. For
example, large shipments are made between Spain and France, between Spain and the UK, and
between the UK and Germany from suppliers to car plants.

Overall, aluminium is an excellent material that causes relatively little damage to the environment
during production or recycling, so long as adequate control equipment is used - as in any industrial
process. It offers reduced shipping loads on roads to the car assembly plants compared with steel, as

Once in use, however, aluminium pays for itself both in terms of reduced fuel costs to the user, and
reduced whole-life energy costs to society. Owing to its resistance to corrosion, a long life is
assured, and at the end of the life, virtually all the material can be recycled many times. Because
more recycling plants will be built as more aluminium is used, it is important that the environmental
standards are applied to such plants.


The social implications

Most of the social implications of the change to the use of aluminium are favourable, since
components are lighter and easier to handle than cast iron or steel, and working conditions are
generally cleaner. However, all car manufacturers are intent on increasing productivity and reducing
costs and manning levels. So long as the European industry remains competitive - and the use of
aluminium structures is one way on which it can do so - sales will grow at an average of 2-4% per
annum for quite some time, and the growth will counteract the tendency to reduced employment

One of the major trends in the automotive industry is for the car manufacturers to reduce the number
of assembly operations in their own plants. In final assembly, they are now buying sub-assemblies
where they used to buy components. A good example is the hub carrier, hub, brake disc and calliper;
previously assembled in the car factory, they are now assembled by a sub-contractor. Few car
manufacturers make seats any more, but rely on specialists.

This trend is also evident in castings, many of which are now being supplied by specialists, and in
the new frame-and-panel bodies. Alcoa supplies machined and straight and bent extrusions, all cut
to size, to Audi for the A8, while Hydro Aluminium Automotive Structures supplies the complete
frame for the Lotus Elise.

Manufacturers move to parts consolidation

More significant, though, is that where possible car manufacturers are designing sub-assemblies
with fewer components - called parts consolidation. For example, the aluminium cylinder block for
the Ford Zetec-SE engine incorporates the head for the oil filter, which is normally a separate unit.
A number of passages are cored into the head. In addition, the oilways are cast in, eliminating about
30 machining operations.

Alcoa is to supply a manufacturer with a high-pressure die-cast B-post for a car, and so intricate is
the shape that one die-casting replaces seven pressings. Therefore, the customer pays for only one
set of dies instead of seven, and several assembly operations are eliminated. Not only does the
elimination of assembly operations reduce labour costs, but it also improves quality.

Owing to the need to improve productivity, a new concept is adopted only if it offers benefits in
many areas. Aluminium structures offer the opportunity of parts consolidation, and are therefore in
line with the trend in the automotive industry. The result will be fewer jobs in the future. However,
in the short term, growth should be sufficient to prevent any redundancies, and allow normal
wastage to compensate for lower manning requirements. Of course, some companies will be more
successful than others, and will grow, while the less competitive ones will see a decline in both
sales and the number of employees.

Three-shift operation

Over the past few years, a few manufacturers have adopted three-shift operation either to increase
output to meet demand, as at GM’s plant at Zaragoza, Spain, or to increase the rate of amortisation

of the investment, as at Fiat’s plant at Melfi, Italy, and Rover Group’s plant at Longbridge, UK. The
Melfi plant operates six days a week, so a complicated shift system has been adopted. However, the
men work less than the normal 37.5 hours a week with longer breaks between working.

At Melfi, the plant operates three shifts of 7 hours 15 minutes a day, in which the operators receive
two 10 minute breaks, but no lunch break. They work about 1,550 hours a year, instead of the 1,700
hours in other Fiat plants, so they work fewer hours to compensate for the unsocial shifts.

To amortise the high cost of investment, press shops in most plants are operated on three shifts, and
of course, two-shift operation is standard in most car plants, and in those of their suppliers. Three-
shift operation will be adopted in more car plants in the future, and owing to the use of Just-in-Time
deliveries, most suppliers will need to operate three shifts as well. Among suppliers, many foundries
operate three shifts in any case.

Three-shifts and six-day week anti-social

To operate a three-shift system and maintain continuity in plants where employees work 36-38
hours a week, four teams are required. Some foundries operate five days a week with some extra
shifts at the weekend, or a six-day week. With four teams, three teams work each full day, with one
team not working. Therefore, each team works for three weeks, and then has one week off. In fact,
in one large supplier of castings, each team works for six days, has one day off, works six days on
one shift - the late day shift, for example - and then straight afterwards works six days on the night
shift before having nine days’ off. Thus, they work for 18 days in every period of 28 days. This
arrangement is varied slightly to take account of national holidays and to balance the workload
between the teams. Teams work early and late day shifts every Saturday. Since the team that works
on Sunday operates the night shift, all employees are free during the daytime on Sundays.

There are two issues here: the adoption of three shifts a day, and shift patterns that involve weekend
working as a matter of routine. Most employees appear to accept three-shift working for five days a
week, even though it is an unnatural way to live. The fact that the routine is changed as people move
from the morning to evening shift, for example, must increase stress, not just for the employees but
also for their families, who must adjust their lives accordingly.

As yet, there are very few plants that operate seven days a week, but since this converts Saturdays
and Sundays to normal days, there is a significant social price to pay. Some observers might claim
that such working will have an adverse effect on the community and family life. In any case, in the
long-term it is likely that there will be some opposition to this shift pattern.

Change from iron to aluminium castings

One change already well under way, and set to accelerate over the next five years, is the use of
aluminium instead of cast iron for cylinder blocks. By 2000 about 3m more aluminium cylinder
blocks than are being made now will be in production in Europe, and consequently, the same
number of cast iron blocks will no longer be needed. In addition, some steel castings and forgings
will be replaced by light alloy components. Overall, therefore, the trend is for the iron casting
industry to lose a significant amount of business. On the other hand, of course, aluminium foundries
and forges will gain business.

The switch to aluminium cylinder blocks will lead to a loss of a relatively small number of jobs -
perhaps a few thousand - in the iron foundry industry, but the increase in jobs in the aluminium
foundry industry for the new business will certainly not compensate for the jobs lost. Some
incentives to encourage declining iron foundries to renovate or replace their plants with aluminium
foundries may be useful, but a study of the available capacity would be required to determine
whether this was justifiable.

Better working conditions

Although fewer employees will be employed in the iron foundry business, at least the working
conditions for those able to move to aluminium foundries will be improved. Any aluminium
foundry is inevitably cleaner than an iron foundry, especially where metal dies are used for the
external shape of the components, and cores for the internal shape, or not at all. All foundries are
hot, but because molten aluminium is enclosed for almost all the time, conditions are much better
than in an iron foundry where there are open ladles moving around the shop, as well as at the
pouring stations. The fumes in an iron foundry are also worse.

In aluminium foundries, the high-pressure die-casting foundry not only has the highest productivity,
but also the best working conditions. There is no sand, and almost all operations in the most modern
plants are automated. Lubricant is sprayed into the die, and this tends to vaporise, so fume extractors
are needed at the machines.

With the use of extrusions for car structures, the aluminium suppliers will set up more extrusion
press operations. Working conditions in extrusion pressed are noisy, because extrusion billets are
being sawn nearly all the time. Of course there is a hot furnace into which the billet is pressed into
the extrusion die. After extrusion, the metal is heat treated, but this operation is automatic, and
usually takes place in an enclosed chamber. Overall, therefore, apart from the noise of the saws,
which can be reduced with sound absorption materials, working conditions are not bad.

Press shops are among the noisier parts of car factories, although the multi-station transfer presses
now being used of the bulk of pressing in modern plants are fully enclosed. Therefore, these
machines are much quieter than in the past. They are equipped with automated handling between
stations, and semi-automated die-changing systems. The pressing of aluminium is similar to that for
steel, except that because aluminium is less ductile, pressings tend to be shallower, and less force is
needed to press it - and that means less noise.

Although about 95% of the welding of steel car bodies is automated, there are still a significant
number of employees in body shops, welding up small sub-assemblies, feeding panels into
machines, and carrying out finishing operations. Welding shops for steel bodies are usually rather
dark and dirty, because when the spot welds are made, some tiny particles of metal are discharged,
and occasionally sparks fly. Working conditions are not good, although they are much better than
they were before welding was automated. Then, men had to wield heavy welding guns to weld up
the bodies.

Smaller welding shops, less welding

Because any all-aluminium body that is produced in volume will incorporate some extrusions, there
will be fewer welds than with steel, particularly of the sub-assemblies that are still welded manually.
If the Alcan AVT system is adopted, only 30% of the existing number of welds will be needed -

about 1,200 against 3,600 for a small car to 2,000 against 6,000 for a large luxury saloon. As a
result, welding shops will be smaller, and conditions can be improved.

On the other hand, because three times as much current is required for aluminium as for steel, and
the condition of the welding electrodes is more critical, more manual intervention might be needed.
For example, it is necessary to clean the tips of the electrodes about once an hour, and unless this
job is automated - a relatively simple operation - the operators will need to work adjacent to the
robots once an hour. Obviously, great care is needed in establishing safety procedures in such a

However, the good news is that companies are likely to emulate Audi in using self-piercing rivets
instead of spot welds to secure aluminium panels together. These rivets are inserted by a hydraulic
gun actuated by a robot, and there is an absence of fumes and sparks, of course, and there is
virtually no noise. Less energy is used as well.

Extrusions are generally MIG welded together by robot, and since the welding is remote from the
operators, often in enclosed cells, this method has no adverse effect on working conditions.

Iron foundries to lose business

Overall, therefore, the change to the use of aluminium will continue the trend towards fewer
employees being needed to produce the components and assemble cars, but growth in the market
should counteract this trend. Iron foundries are set to lose a significant amount of business, and steel
companies will lose some business as well. Any company specialising in the production of welded
steel assemblies is likely to see a reduction in business long term, unless it is efficient enough to
take the remaining amount of steel pressing and assembly work from its competitors.

Over the next decade it is unlikely that the use of aluminium structures will spread to the smaller
cars, so the steel industry will continue to supply a substantial amount of steel to the car industry,
and employment is unlikely to be affected; competition from companies outside the EU is a far
stronger threat to employment levels in the steel industry.

Aluminium cars could change people’s attitude to cars

Once the aluminium cars are in use, their long life may tend to change people’s attitude to cars.
Currently, a new or nearly new car is an important status symbol for many people, even though it is
recognised that cars have lives of around ten years. Aluminium cars are superior in terms of
stiffness and vibration levels, so people may find that an old aluminium car is better than a newer
steel one. In such circumstances, the aluminium car could result in people tending to see cars in a
more utilitarian manner, but one that has the required levels of comfort and performance, instead of
something to be renewed every two years to maintain status.

Should the longevity of the aluminium car have such an effect, it would make a big difference to
society and to the car manufacturers, who would find planned obsolescence less easy to sell than at

It is impossible to judge whether a change such as this is imminent, but it is clear that overall, the
switch to the use of aluminium bodies will lead to a reduction in jobs in the iron foundry and steel
fabrication business, with improved working conditions for those that work with aluminium.


Suppliers need to change to remain competitive

Over the past decade, the vehicle manufacturers, under pressure from foreign competition, have
reorganised their operations in many ways, and one of the most significant is in their dealings with
suppliers. They have moved from a situation in which they had two or three vendors, delivering
large batches of the same components, to a system in which there are fewer vendors, each usually
supplying all components of one design in small batches. Moreover, many suppliers are now
responsible for substantial aspects of the design. In addition, instead of purchasing components,
manufacturers are trying to buy modules or systems, with the supplier being responsible for the
sourcing of minor components in the module.

Traditionally combative stance

Traditionally, the European and North American automotive industries adopted a combative stance
with their suppliers, often negotiating in detail on price only. Typically, for a casting, pressing or
injection moulding, there would be two or three suppliers for each component. Each one would be
set against the others, so that over a period of time, the car maker would be able to force prices
down, usually without making any effort to make the product simpler to produce. Gradually, this
system was changed, with some suppliers being given all the business for one component, and
perhaps 50% for some others. Even so, a typical European car maker may be dealing with 40-50
different injection moulders, even though only five or six different materials are being used.

Not surprisingly, suppliers were secretive about improvements they made, so that they would be
able to charge a high price for their products despite the fact that costs had been reduced. In some
cases, a vendor would be given a contract to supply a modified component, and would be paid for
new tooling. However, the vendor would modify the old tool at low cost and charge the
manufacturer for a new tool.

Owing to the adversarial nature of the industry, there was no trust between supplier and customer,
and buyers spent all their time chasing up contracts and products from a vast range of suppliers. In
addition, the huge inventory maintained in the plants, often under very poor control, led to high

Efforts to reduce supplier base

When it was realised that the Japanese managed with far fewer suppliers, efforts were made to
reduce the number, which was of the order of 2,000 per manufacturer in the mid 1980s. This was
done initially by weeding out the poor performers in terms of delivery, quality and price, but without
much attention being paid to improved relationships with suppliers or better control of deliveries, let
alone improved control of the inventory of components produced in-house.

Table 9.1
Reduction in number of suppliers by Renault, 1985-95

Year Total number of suppliers

1985 1,850
1989 1,200
1994 800
Source: Renault

Even in 1991-2, GM Europe and VW Group had over 2,000 suppliers each, while Ford had 1,700.
Now, the average is around 1,000, and most wish to reduce the number of suppliers to about 500.
By contrast the number of suppliers in Japan is about 200-300 per manufacturer, and the Japanese
have repeated this process in Europe, where they have 150-200 European suppliers, and some in
Japan and elsewhere.

The reduction in the supplier base requires rationalisation of operations and the establishment of a
new relationship with suppliers. For example, a car company may buy 50 injection mouldings of
five different materials, but traditionally would have had 40-60 suppliers, with two suppliers for the
components used in big volumes. By contrast, the Japanese manufacturers have 5-10 suppliers, and
usually rely on one supplier for each material used - on the basis that with this arrangement the
supplier becomes an expert in moulding that material and will give the manufacturer better value.
This is one aspect of the approach needed to reduce the supplier base efficiently.

Use of JIT led to need for long-term contracts

The first stage in the reduction in the number of suppliers did not make much difference to existing
contracts. However, the next stage was the adoption of various types of JIT (Just-in-Time) delivery
by manufacturers. At the time, the European manufacturers were under the impression that JIT was
a stand-alone process applicable to suppliers only, whereas JIT is just one small part of the Toyota
Production System, applicable in-house as much as with suppliers. Therefore, they started to
demand that suppliers deliver goods in small batches, but each manufacturer had a different idea of
the batch size it required, which led to complications for the suppliers. In addition, many suppliers
attempted to meet these requirements with existing production systems by building up large stocks,
which they drew on to meet each delivery. The result was excessive inventory, poor quality and
higher costs, because they were always trying to build more assemblies than were actually being

Later, some of the vehicle makers realised that they needed to give suppliers bigger, long-term
contracts if they were to be able to supply JIT effectively, and the suppliers realised that they needed
to change their processes to suit small batches so that they could produce only to fulfil orders as
they were received - sometimes with only a few hours’ lead time. Initially, this approach applied to a
few components only, but has now become common in the industry.

Sequential deliveries every hour

The next development, again copied from Japan, was the use of "sequential" or "synchro" deliveries,
which are adopted for components and assemblies for which there is high variety. Typical

components are seats, bumpers in body colour, instrument panel fascias and door trim panels. Most
of these components are not only specific to one body colour but also to one grade of car.

The principle with sequential deliveries is that the vendor delivers one pallet at intervals of 30-60
minutes, with just enough components for a period of, say, 45 minutes’ production. The components
are stacked in the pallet to suit the sequence in which the cars are coming down the line. For
example, to suit a sequence of black, red and green cars, a black bumper will be at the front of the
pallet with a red one behind it, then a green one and so on.

Electronic trading essential

For sequential deliveries it is essential to broadcast the production sequence to the suppliers
frequently, and initially this was done by fax, but later electronically - indeed, electronic trading has
become one of the essential requirements for almost all suppliers dealing direct with vehicle
manufacturers over the past five-ten years. The principal mode of operation in electronic trading is
EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), a system of standard syntax, protocols and messages that allows
companies to send electronic documents from computer to computer. Typically, manufacturers send
suppliers initial orders, forecasts of monthly and weekly schedules and daily call-off orders by EDI,
and suppliers send EDI messages as acknowledgement of order, confirmation of delivery and
invoices. Ultimately, the complete cycle, including payment can be handled by EDI, with three or
four electronic documents replacing 10-20 paper documents in the full cycle.

The use of EDI to handle JIT and sequential deliveries is needed because otherwise the sheer
volume of paper - of which typically 30% contain errors, against 3% with EDI documents - leads to
an enormous amount of unproductive paper handling. For example, with 4,000 components being
delivered to a car assembly factory four times a day, and just seven documents per delivery, the
purchasing department would handle 112,000 documents daily for one plant. If there are errors in
30,000 of these, the administrative work involved would be enormous.

The number can be reduced by invoicing daily or weekly, but with the strategic use of EDI the
number of documents can be cut drastically. As yet, the full benefits of EDI are not being obtained,
and one problem is that in some countries an electronic invoice is not an acceptable legal
document, and legislation is needed to change this situation. The other problem is that many
suppliers do not see the benefits of EDI.

EDI the key to managing the whole supply chain

In fact, EDI can be used right through the supply chain from the car dealer to the manufacturer,
through the first-tier suppliers to their suppliers, and ultimately to the raw materials producers. Its
use gives benefits in reducing lead time, in the cost of administration and of storing goods. It also
enables purchasing managers to spend less time on administration and progress chasing, thus
making their work more efficient. It is essential that any company that wishes to remain a first-tier
supplier should invest in information technology and EDI, and it is almost as essential for second-
and third-tier suppliers as well.

EDI, JIT and sequential deliveries raise efficiency

EDI, JIT and sequential deliveries are important tools in enabling the European car industry to
become more competitive. However, it follows that closer relationships are needed to gain these

benefits. The first stage of the closer relationships is to improve the method of giving contracts so
that suppliers can be confident that if they invest in new methods of production or tooling, they will
benefit from that investment. For this change to take place, the relationship needs to be based on
specific performance criteria, and so long as those criteria are met, the supplier should retain the
contract. The industry has moved in this direction, but some manufacturers are further ahead than

Haulier co-ordinates deliveries for car maker

In the past, many car makers relied on the supplier to deliver batches of components, but to co-
ordinate timing with the precision required for JIT and sequential deliveries, most manufacturers
have taken responsibility for delivery. Some did so in order to encourage good suppliers a long
distance from their plants to supply them. Generally, a specialist haulage company is responsible for
collecting components from suppliers and delivering them either to the assembly lines or to
consolidation warehouses from which they are shipped to the line in smaller batches.

In cases where the components are bulky, such as sets of seats, one or two trucks are dedicated to
delivering them between supplier and customer. In other cases, one truck-load may be collected
daily. For very small components, however, the milk run principle is adopted. According to a pre-
set timetable, one truck calls in turn on several suppliers, picking up a batch of components
sufficient for one or two hours’ production. Because the truck is collecting pallets from several
suppliers, it is essential that it is not kept waiting while pallets are filled. Therefore, vendors need to
ensure that they are able to produce in these small batches, and that they are ready when the truck
arrives. If the complete batch is not available, some customers insist that the vendor delivers the
outstanding components itself within the pre-set time window - this may be two to eight hours. New
suppliers will need to be able to comply with these requirements.

Co-makership the next stage

The next step in this process is co-makership, in which the manufacturer gives the supplier much
more information about its requirements for a product, but less detail. For example, it gives the
dimensions within which the product must fit and the performance criteria, whereas in the past it
would have given actual dimensions and specification, and the supplier would not have known
whether there was actually space to make the unit slightly larger than specified. Moreover, the
supplier is also made responsible for any standard items in the assembly, such as electric motors,
switches or valves, whereas previously the manufacturer would have specified the design for these
items, and purchased them itself from a supplier, perhaps for supply free of charge to the other

In the co-makership principle, pioneered in Europe by VW, the supplier is given technical
responsibility for the complete assembly, and is likely to buy some components from companies that
are normally first-tier suppliers, such as Bosch and Siemens. The proponents of co-makership claim
that the supplier, as a specialist, has better knowledge of the product and relevant technologies than
the car manufacturer, which is more concerned with the performance of the product rather than the
detailed design. This is particularly true of assemblies such as instrument clusters, brakes, ABS,
steering gear, lamps, electronic control units and electronic assemblies in general.

Simultaneous engineering reduces lead time, improves quality

Most European car makers now develop their products using some form of simultaneous
engineering (SE) which is sometimes called concurrent engineering. Simultaneous engineering is a
method in which members from all relevant departments are involved in the product development
process, and use some specific tools to ensure that the design meets the customers’ requirements,
and can be made easily.

And replaces "over-the-fence" engineering

Formerly, product design would produce a design, pass it on to production engineering, which
would specify the way in which it would be made, and buy the tooling, then hand it to production to
build it. Meanwhile, marketing and sales and service would come into the project not long before
production to decide how the product should be marketed.

By the time that production engineers found that there were practical problems with the product, the
design would have been finished, and prototypes built. Frequently, components would need to be
redesigned to suit production, tooling would have to be redesigned so that the cost was increased,
and the start of production delayed. Therefore, sales would be lost to competitors. Then, marketing
would suggest changes, but it would be too late to make them. With this "over-the-fence" approach,
products were often brought to market 6-18 months late, while budgets for tooling were often 50-
100% over budget.

With SE, a task force is set up for each model, including personnel from at least product deign and
production in the simple forms used by some makers. However, with full SE, adopted by pioneers
such as BMW, Chrysler, and Rover, the team consists of:

Product design;
Production engineering;
Principal suppliers;

Principal suppliers involved in the teams are not only the suppliers of key components, but also of
critical machine tools and tooling.

The advantage of SE is that since all departments have a say in the design from the start, it is
impossible for a product to be found to be unsuitable for production after the design is complete -
the production engineers will have worked on the product conceptually at the same time as the
product designers have been working on the design, and they will have solved problems together.
For the same reason, suppliers are able to tailor their designs more closely to the customer’s
requirements, and are able to produce tooling more quickly. Overall, the benefits of SE are:

Shorter lead times - typically cut from 50-60 months to 35-40, months;
More changes made to the design early in the project, before metal is cut, and far fewer made just
before, and just after production starts, reducing the cost of the project significantly;

Better quality of design, since the product is made to be produced simply, and quality is built into
the design.

Production of modules

A development from co-makership and SE is the production of modules and systems, and tiered
supply. In the tiered system, a relatively few number of suppliers, the first tier, supply the car maker
directly. A second-tier vendor supplies first-tier companies, and so on. By adopting the tiered
system, the car makers gain several advantages.

First, they can receive a relatively small number of sub-assemblies and modules, as do their
counterparts in Japan. Their purchasing is simplified, and they can rely on the vendors to design and
develop the modules, thus reducing their engineering burden. For optimum efficiency the first-tier
suppliers need to be near their customers.

The assembly of a module or system by the vendor can improve efficiency, since the vendor
becomes a specialist, both in the design and production of such modules. A "system" consists of all
components in a system, such as the fuel system from the filler neck of the tank through to the fuel
injectors, or the braking system from the pedal to the discs and brake pads.

A "module" however is related to a group of components that can be assembled in one operation to
the car, and may include units from several different systems. A brake supplier, such as ITT Teves
or Lucas may be given the responsibility for the design of the complete braking system, but may
supply to different first-tier suppliers of modules. For example, the brake disc, pads and calliper
would be supplied to a vendor that builds up the front suspension module, while the pedals might be
delivered to the assembler of the instrument panel fascia module, and the brake servo/master
cylinder unit might be delivered to the car maker for direct assembly in the car.

Instrument panel a typical module

A typical module is the instrument panel of the VW Polo, which is built at Pamplona, northern
Spain. It is built by a subsidiary of Delphi Automotive, which is responsible for purchasing the 70-
odd components in the instrument panel, which consists of a large injection moulding, instruments,
switches, grilles, loudspeakers, ducts, the glove locker, wiring harness and fasteners. Suppliers of
components include TRW for fasteners and Isophon for speakers, companies that formerly would
have delivered directly to VW. The supplier builds and tests the module, and is responsible for its
own quality control - the manufacturer does not inspect these modules at all, which streamlines
operations and cuts costs.

The production of modules is set to increase sharply, and some of them, such as seats, will
incorporate light alloy frames in the future. Other modules include:

Fuelling module consisting of injectors, fuel rail, manifold, wiring and air filter;
Front suspension sub-frames with steering gear and engine mounts;
Front suspension corners - consisting of MacPherson strut, spring, hub carrier, hub and bearings,
with transverse link;
Rear suspension modules built up on sub-frames;
Front-end, consisting of front cross member, radiator, fan, wiring, lamps, front grille and front

Sunroof, as a complete assembly ready to bolt in position, instead of four or five components;
Exhaust system, complete, instead of separate units;
Fuel tank, including filler pipe and neck, gauge unit, wiring and pipework;
Pedal and steering column modules which can be incorporated along with the heater/air
conditioning unit in the instrument panel module.

The use of modules allows the car maker to reduce the size of its plant, and use fewer employees, so
that basic costs are reduced. In addition, because cars based on module can be built in a shorter
time, the company can fulfil a customer’s order more quickly.

Nevertheless, the use of modules is growing slowly, partly because of the low level of trust still
endemic in the industry. However, any company that intends to remain, or become a principal
supplier of components to the automotive industry, needs to be ready to supply modules.

Satellite plants around assembly plants

In order to be able to supply components on a JIT and sequential basis, vendors need assembly
shops near their customers. In fact, the newest car factories, those erected by Seat at Martorell, near
Barcelona, Spain, and by Fiat at Melfi in the south of Italy, have special premises set aside for
satellite plants that are operated by suppliers. There are 15 suppliers in the satellite plant at
Martorell, which is 2.5km from the assembly plant, and 19 at Martorell, housed in buildings
adjacent to the main plant. In some cases, car manufacturers have sold some operations within their
plants to suppliers, which now occupy part of the car plant.

This approach has been adopted in older plants, and one of the first to be changed in Ford’s plant at
Valencia in Spain. An area has been set aside on land separated from the plant only by a railway line
- which serves the plant incidentally - and already Johnson Controls has built a plant there and
assembles seats for the Ford Escort and Fiesta. The seats are delivered along a conveyor through an
elevated tunnel direct to the assembly line, so there is no stock in the assembly plant at all. About
ten other suppliers are building small plants there to supply welded components and sub-assemblies
such as the instrument panel to the Ford plant. This approach will become commonplace within a
few years.

The trend is toward a situation in which suppliers of components supplied sequentially are within
10km of the customer’s plant, and with suppliers concentrating machining and core activities in a
few efficient automated plants. Core modules will then be supplied to the small assembly plants
adjacent to customers’ plants. In some cases, all operations are performed at the satellite plants - a
good example is bumpers, which are moulded and painted in special-purpose plants each dedicated
to one customer.

Currently, this approach has not been adopted for the supply of cylinder blocks and heads for
engines, largely because there is little variety in the castings supplied - one cylinder block is used for
one engine, and supplied in big volumes. However, the trend, as with other components, is for the
foundry to be close to the engine plant, particularly since one foundry can be erected to produce
these castings for one customer - so long as volumes are large. In fact, many foundries now carry
out a number of machining operations on cylinder blocks and heads - usually the first machining
operations on flat faces - and vehicle manufacturers would like, in an ideal situation for the casting
to be supplied along a conveyor from the foundry through a hole in the wall to their engine
machining plant, to eliminate the cost of administering deliveries.

Suppliers of aluminium extrusions for bodies are not near their customers, because extrusion is a
capital-intensive process requiring a substantial number of extrusions to be produced from each
press. In any case, the use of extrusions is at an early stage in development, and extrusions are light
components, and many sets can be supplied in one truck.

For similar reasons, suppliers of other aluminium components, such as suspension arms, are not
usually near their customers. In addition, these may represent a small proportion of the output of
the foundry or forge, and so production is carried out in an existing plant.

Suppliers need to increase R&D activities

Owing to the need for suppliers to become involved in SE projects, they need to carry out more
R&D than in the past, with specialist engineers able to design products to their customers’
requirements. For example, Alcoa Automotive Structures has a team of 40 design engineers who are
specialists in car body design, able to produce design concepts and detailed designs for customers at
an office at Esslingen, Germany. Customers pay for the design consultancy service, however.

- And invest in plant dedicated to one customer

In addition, car makers are now asking suppliers to invest in plants to produce major components
for them. A good example is the aluminium foundry erected at Dillingen, south-west Germany by
VAW Motor at a cost of DM250m. The two lines in the foundry are dedicated to the production of
aluminium cylinder blocks and heads for the Ford Zetec SE with a new precision sand casting
method. This is an exclusive contract, and so long as the contract remains in force, no other
products will be made on these two lines. Since the investment was funded by VAW, however, it is
entitled to install extra lines and extra equipment to make other products for other customers. This
is one of the first examples of this type of investment, but will be followed by others in the future.

However, Dillingen is a long way from Valencia, Spain, the plant where the cylinder blocks are
machined. Since the process used in the foundry is new, VAW was reluctant to build the foundry in
Spain, remote from its technological base. Now, however, Ford is to produce the Zetec SE at
Bridgend, in the UK as well as at Valencia, and VAW Motor has decided to build a new foundry
rather than expand the existing one. The new foundry will be in the UK, probably near Bridgend,
and this is in line with trends in the industry.
Any suppliers of aluminium components whose products are to replace ones of steel or iron, will be
expected to invest not only in design but also in production plant, preferably near the customer’s
factory. Of course, with capital-intensive processes, such as forging, die-casting or extrusions, this
may not be practical. In some cases it may not be necessary, since these components are generally
light in weight and compact. Therefore, they can be shipped easily long distances, so delivery over a
distance of 500km is generally acceptable.


The main markets for cars and growth potential

Currently, western Europe is the largest market for passenger cars with sales of 11.9m units in 1994.
North America, with 10.9m units is the second largest region, while Japan remains the third largest
market with sales of 4.21m units. All these are mature markets, and Japan is only just beginning to
recover from a major recession, which saw overseas manufacture increase sharply to the detriment
of production in Japan.

These mature markets will grow slowly over the next five to ten years, and some forecasts suggest
that the North American market passenger car will hardly grow at all, because the growth in vehicle
sales there is concentrated in pick-up trucks and mini-vans. Mini-vans are actually people-carriers,
with the shape of a van; these are called MPVs (multi-purpose vehicles) in Europe.

Potential in East Europe

East Europe has tremendous potential, and is an area where European manufacturers should benefit
from the expected growth. However, the hammer and sickle still hangs over East Europe, and
should the former Communist regime regain control of Russia, which now seems likely, then the
situation could change overnight. In that event, Russia would cease to be a significant market for
foreign goods, and some of the east European countries could also fail to see any growth in
consumer spending for the rest of the decade.

Should free markets flourish in East Europe, then car sales will increase from about 900,000 units in
1994 to 1.4m units in 2000 - total growth of 55%. However, the total volume is still small, and the
growth of 500,000 units compares unfavourably with the forecast increase of 1.0m units for
Western Europe in the same period.

The Japanese market has been declining, from 5.1m cars in 1990 to 4.21m in 1994, and is likely to
increase to 4.9-5.0m units by 2000, recovering most of the losses in the recession. This represents
an increase of 16%, but by 2000 the market will be very different from that of 1990. Imports, which
took about 2% of the market in 1990, will account for about 15% of the market in 2000. Therefore,
the sales of domestically produced cars will hardly increase at all. However, that is not such good
news for European makers as it might sound, because about 50% of the imports are now from
Japanese-owned plants, mostly in North America, but some from Europe.

Table 10.1
Forecast for sales of passenger cars worldwide, 1994-2000
World 1994 1997 2000 Growth, %
Western Europe 11.90 12.70 13.00 9.2%
Eastern Europe 0.90 1.10 1.40 55.6%
North America 10.90 11.80 11.00 0.9%
Japan 4.21 4.60 4.90 16.4%
South American
& Mexico 1.65 1.90 2.20 33.3%
Pacific Rim 2.63 3.30 3.90 48.3%
Others 1.81 2.00 2.20 21.5%
Total 34.00 37.40 38.60 13.5%
Source: EIU

Most growth in Latin America and Pacific Rim

Compared with these markets, Latin America and Mexico, India and the Pacific Rim are the regions
where most growth is forecast. In Latin America and Mexico, the markets are dominated by local
manufacturing facilities established by American and some European companies owing to limits on
imports. This region, which accounted for sales of 1.65m units in 1994, is forecast to grow by 33%
by 2000, to 2.2m sales. However, the increase in units sold is still less than that expected in Western

Pacific Rim most promising

On the other hand, the Pacific Rim and India, which comprises many newly-industrialised countries
where the work ethic is strong, is likely to see substantial growth, albeit from a very low base in
most cases. Between 1994 and 2000, sales are expected to increase from 2.63m to 3.9m - up 1.27m
units or 48%.

Table 10.2

Forecast for car sales in the Pacific Rim and India, 1994-2000

1994 1997 2000 Growth, 1994-2000, %

China 380,000 690,000 1.0m 163
India 260,000 320,000 410,000 250
Indonesia 40,000 60,000 80,000 150
Malaysia 140,000 180,000 210,000 71
Philippines 50,000 70,000 100,000 144
South Korea 1.18m 1.33m 1.78m 68
Taiwan 440,000 470,000 500,000 43
Thailand 140,000 180,000 210,000 75
Total 2.63m 3.3m 3.94m 90

Source: EIU

South Korea is already established as a major market, with sales of 1.18m units in 1994. It is served
almost entirely by three local manufacturers - Daewoo, Hyundai and Kia - each of which intends to
be raise output to about 2.0m units in the next five years. Ssangyong is moving into the passenger
car business, and Samsung also plans to do so. The manufacturing base is growing far faster than
the market, so most cars will need to be exported.

Taiwan is also a well established market, served mainly by Yue Loong, which used to build Nissans
under licence, and a local assembler of Ford cars. Yue Loong has ambitions to become a major

There are also several car assembly plants in China, which build cars under licence, but the plan is
to increase output significantly in the next century. In fact, China expects to be producing 1.1m
passenger cars in 2000, while domestic sales are put at 1.0m; so, in the next century China is intent
on becoming a major exporter of cars.

The other markets are just beginning to flourish, and in most local production is expected to match
domestic sales closely until 2000. Therefore, opportunities for imports are limited to luxury cars.

Some market sectors to grow rapidly

Fastest growth for passenger cars will be concentrated in the Pacific Rim and Latin America over
the next five years, with the majority of vehicles sold there being hatchbacks and saloons, mostly
with engines of 1.0-2.0 litres. To suit these markets some companies, such as Fiat, Honda and
Toyota, are designing special vehicles in the 1.3-1.6 litre class. They will have most of the features
of cars sold in Europe and Japan, but will be simpler to build without a high degree of automation,
and will be built down to a price. These are likely to be big sellers, and of course, to keep costs
down, and simplify repairs, the cars are based on steel bodies. Eventually, some of these cars will be
exported to Europe; indeed, Fiat is to build its car in Poland as well as in Latin America.

Europe, North America and Japan remain the biggest markets for larger, speciality cars, and it is in
these cars that there is the greatest opportunity for aluminium. One reason is that in these regions,
more attention is being paid to controlling air pollution and in reducing fuel consumption. In
addition, a significant number of people are prepared, and able, to pay extra for a superior product.
So despite the attractions of the new markets, the biggest demand for cars with aluminium bodies
will be in North America, Europe and Japan.

Market changing in Europe

In Europe, the pattern of the market is changing. There is a

move to smaller cars, and also speciality products, such as MPVs, off-road vehicles and sporty

Table 10.3

European market forecast by segment, 1994-2000

1994 2000 Growth (1994-2000) %,

Small cars 3.65m 4.28m 17
Lower medium 4.06m 4.46m 9
Higher medium 2.54m 2.48 -2
Large 860,000 700,000 -18
MPVs 180,000 400,000 122
Off-road 290,000 350,000 20

(Source: EIU)

The move away from the largest cars is already evident in Germany. As Europeans move to smaller
cars, they will expect to retain the same level of comfort and performance of their previous cars. In
addition, with increasing demand for coupes and speciality products, the average rate of production
for each individual model will fall - and many will be produced at rates of less than 150,000 a year,
and so aluminium frame-and-panel structures will be ideal.

A somewhat similar trend is evident in North America, with some downsizing, and interest in
vehicles of different types. However, volumes for the mainstream products there are very high -
300,000-600,000 a year - where the aluminium unitary construction seems more appropriate.

For the next five years, car sales will grow as fast in Europe as anywhere in terms of the number of
units, and North America and Japan will remain the other best markets for the more expensive cars.

The size of the market for aluminium cars in North America depends primarily on changes in
legislation of the fuel consumption that the cars sold by manufacturers must achieve. At present, no
severe figures are expected, so a gradual increase in the use of aluminium is expected. A change in
administration could change this situation.

In addition, electric vehicles are likely to have aluminium structures, because they are much heavier
than those with petrol engines, and potential demand is low. Also, because their costs are high, the
extra cost of aluminium has little impact on total cost.

In the next century, the situation is likely to change, with the Pacific Rim becoming the area with
greatest growth, followed by Latin America. Initially, the majority of cars sold in these areas will be
small-to-medium size cars, small trucks and vans, which will be made primarily of steel. Europe,
Japan and North America will remain the main markets for cars with aluminium components and
structures, but other areas are increasingly likely to use aluminium in the first decade of the next


Forecast for growth in the use of aluminium

Although aluminium is being used increasingly for applications such as heat exchangers, the main
areas for growth in the use by the automotive industry are:

Engine cylinder blocks;

Chassis components such as sub-frames, suspension links, hub carriers, brake callipers and brake
Body structures and external panels.

The increase in general use is moving in the order shown above, and in this Chapter, the increase in
the use of aluminium is these areas is forecast. Also, forecasts are given for the increase in the
number of units produced, by main manufacturing region - Europe, North America, Japan and South
East Asia, where Korea is the main manufacturing country. These forecasts are for the increase in
the use of aluminium in these specific areas only. Aluminium used for other applications such as
cylinder heads, coolant radiators and air conditioners, and various housings are not included in the
figures, since aluminium is used widely already, and because increased use has a minor effect on the
total amount of aluminium used by the industry.

Engines - aluminium cylinder blocks

The move to the use of aluminium cylinder blocks is now well under way worldwide, with Europe
now making the change. Ford is to expand production of its Zetec-SE engine in 1997, and is due to
introduce a version of the other Zetec engines with aluminium blocks later on. GM Europe is to
introduce a 2.2 litre aluminium unit designed in the USA, and BMW will replace its four-cylinder
engines with aluminium designs by 2000. Its subsidiary, the Rover Group, introduced an aluminium
V-6 cylinder version of its K Series engine in January 1996. Mercedes-Benz has decided to switch
to aluminium for all its engines, and has already installed a massive high pressure die-casting
machine to produce castings for six-cylinder aluminium blocks. In addition, VW has placed orders
with Montupet for aluminium cylinder blocks for its new range of engines. The recently introduced
range of Volvo engines also has aluminium blocks.

However, Fiat is evidently committed to the use of cast iron blocks, at least for its smaller engines
and has just introduced a new family of four-and five-cylinder units with cast iron blocks. GM
Europe’s engineering staff believe that cast iron is preferable for smaller units and will introduce a
0.9-1.1 litre engine with a cast iron block in the near future.

In North America, GM has been producing V-8s with high pressure cast aluminium blocks for many
years, and introduced a new engine a few years ago. It also produces the Saturn four-cylinder
engine, which has a lost-foam aluminium cylinder block, and is set to produce a slightly larger unit
in the USA, as well as Europe. Ford heralded its switch to aluminium in North America with the
introduction of the modular engine, produced already as a V-8 with iron and aluminium blocks, and
a V-6 with an aluminium block produced by the Cosworth process. The production of the
aluminium V-8 is being increased gradually.
Chrysler has yet to unveil any aluminium engines, but has some under development, and these will
be in production within a few years.

In Japan, most companies except Mitsubishi are already using aluminium blocks. All Honda and
Suzuki and most Nissan engines have aluminium units, while both Mazda and Toyota produce
some. Owing to the big investment by the Toyota group in iron foundries, the company is moving
slowly to the use of aluminium. In Table 11.1 and subsequent Tables, the figures for 1995 are
estimates, and figures for later years are median forecasts.

Table 11.1

Forecast for production of aluminium cylinder blocks, 1995-2000, million units

1995 2000 Growth 1995-2000, %

Europe 1.70 4.5 166
Japan 3.20 4.6 43
North America 1.65 3.3 100
Other 0.10 0.9 800
World 6.65 13.3 101

The figures in Table 11.1 represent median calculations, and are dependent on gradual but steady
growth in world markets over the next five years, and no sudden changes in the prices of materials.
Any of these factors, or a drastic revision in the fuel economy figures set for cars in the USA - or the
introduction of similar laws in the EU - could change the rate of growth.

Much of the growth will take place in Europe, but the Koreans will start introducing engines with
aluminium blocks in 1997-8. In North America, growth will be somewhat slower at first, but the
pace will increase between 2000-2005. By 2005, over 50% of all cylinder blocks for petrol engines,
and a substantial number of those for diesels will be aluminium.

Table 11.2

Forecast for the increase in aluminium used for cylinder block production, 1995-2000, tonnes

1995 2000 Increase

Europe 55,000 147,000 92,000
North America 58,000 115,000 57,000
Japan 87,000 124,000 37,000
S.E. Asia None 23,000 23,000
Total 200,000 409,000 209,000

The use of aluminium will double, but since most of the alloys will be secondary aluminium, only
about 50,000 tonnes more primary aluminium will be required, an inconsequential amount in terms
of primary aluminium production.

Move to aluminium suspension components

There are over 12 models of cars in production with some aluminium suspension components, but
none with as many as the Honda NSX or BMW 5 Series. Since the BMW 5 Series models are
produced in substantial volumes, this car is a trend setter. In North America, some of the more
expensive cars have aluminium suspension components, and the situation is somewhat similar in

Japan. This trend is growing rapidly because changes can be made without waiting for a full model

Table 11.3

Forecast for cars produced with aluminium suspension components, number of units

1995 2000
Europe 500,000 1.4m
North America 200,000 2.0m
Japan 260,000 1.2m
Total 960,000 4.6m

The number of cars in Europe is high because a large number of luxury and high-performance cars
are being produced with a few aluminium components, such as hub carriers or some links. The rate
of increase is likely to be faster in North America owing to the greater size of the average car there,
and the consequently greater benefits. As the number of vehicles equipped with aluminium
suspension components increases, so also will the number of components in each car. For example,
in some cars there are only two or four links made of aluminium now, but this number will increase
to four-to-eight components within five years. Overall, however, the growth rate now looks as if it
will be slightly slower than seemed to be the case two years ago.

Table 11.4

Forecast for the increase in the use of aluminium for suspensions 1995-2000, tonnes

1995 2000 Increase

Europe 7,700 34,000 26,700
North America 1,000 32,000 31,000
Japan 1,500 24,000 22,500
S. Korea 0 1,000 -
Total 10,200 91,000 80,200

Aluminium body structures

The increase in the use of aluminium structures over the next three years is now reasonably clear,
since the vehicles are already under development - at least two in North America and two in Europe
by 1997. After that the rate of growth will increase steadily, but large volumes will not be in
production before 2000-2005.

Table 11.5

Forecast for the production of cars with aluminium body structures, 1995-2000

1995 2000
Europe 15,000 340,000
North America 0 270,000
Japan 5,000 190,000
Total 20,000 940,000

Most of those produced in the next few years will have frame-and-panel construction, some with
plastic panels, with the unitary construction cars coming later on. Some of the cars with frame-and-
panel construction are models that it would not be feasible to make any other way. Therefore, this
form of construction is not just replacing steel, it is opening up a new market.

Table 11.6

Forecast for the production of cars with aluminium exterior or detachable panels, 1995-2000
1995 2,000
Europe 150,000 770,000
North America 350,000 1,500,000
Japan 50,000 750,000
Total 550,000 3,020,000

These figures exclude cars with aluminium structures, most of which will have aluminium panels
until about 2000. Once manufacturers start to produce aluminium body structures, their competitors
will adopt more aluminium panels to reduce weight. Also the more conservative companies will
adopt aluminium for detachable panels first. At present, several cars are equipped with just one
aluminium panel - such as a bonnet or boot lid - but the number of panels per car will increase

Table 11.7

Forecast for use of aluminium for bodies and detachable panels,1995-2000, tonnes

1995 2000 Increase, tonnes

Europe 9,000 78,000 69,000
North America 3,500 110,000 106,000
Japan 1,700 52,000 50,000
S. Korea 0 12,000 12,000
Total 13,200 252,000 237,000

Detachable panels will be produced from primary aluminium owing to the need for Class A finish
able to be painted without hand polishing. Some hand finishing is needed for both steel and
aluminium panels in some areas of a large number of cars, but this operation is to remove
irregularities and blemishes caused during the welding process.

Table 11.8
Forecast of increase in use of aluminium by the automotive industry for new applications,
1995-2000, tonnes
1995 2000 Increase
Europe 72,000 260,000 188,000
North America 65,000 260,000 195,000
Japan 90,000 200,000 110,000
S. Korea 0 36,000 36,000
Total 224,000 753,000 529,000

Overall, it is forecast that the consumption of aluminium for these specific applications - engine
cylinder blocks, suspension components and body structures and panels - will increase by about
500,000 tonnes a year by 2000. Owing to the use of secondary aluminium for some components, net

consumption will increase by about 350,000 tonnes. Between 2000 and 2006, aluminium bodies and
other units will be introduced at a rather faster rate, so that over the next ten years, consumption by
the automotive industry for these new applications will increase by over 1.0m tonnes a year -
probably about 800,000 tonnes of primary aluminium - well within the capacity of the aluminium

In 1995, the amount of aluminium in a North American car was about 90kg, and in Europe and
Japan the amount was about 65kg. There is more aluminium in North American cars principally
because they are bigger and heavier, and because automatic transmissions, which have complex
aluminium housings and valve blocks, are virtually standard. The amount will increase to about
110kg/car in North America and 95kg/car in Europe by 2000. By 2005, the quantity is likely to
increase to about 120 and 130kg/car respectively. In Table 11.9, a forecast for aluminium usage for
all applications is given.

Table 11.9

Estimate of consumption of aluminium by automotive industry, 1995-2005, million tonnes

1995 2000 2005

Net Gross Net Gross Net Gross
Europe 0.50 0.80 0.95 1.24 1.20 1.68
N. America 0.65 1.00 0.94 1.25 1.05 1.50
Japan 0.33 0.50 0.60 0.80 0.80 1.15
World 1.75 2.50 2.50 3.30 3.40 4.80

Although these forecasts represent a significant increase by the industry worldwide, the increase in
the amount of virgin aluminium required is not that substantial because the automotive industry
already uses a large amount of secondary aluminium, and will continue to do so. The amount of
secondary aluminium in use will decline until about 2000, owing to the introduction of new
applications. Afterwards, as experience is gained with these applications, and as pressure increases
for recycling, the proportion of secondary aluminium will increase again.

Overall, it is forecast that the extra amount of virgin aluminium required by the automotive industry
for all applications between 1995 and 2000 will be about 750,000 tonnes, an increase of about
150,000 tonnes a year. Between 2000 and 2005, the increase is likely to be somewhat greater, at
900,000 tonnes. These amounts are well within the capability of the aluminium industry. The actual
increase may be slightly slower or faster, depending on economic conditions, and a number of other
unpredictable factors such as the cost of energy and legislation concerning fuel consumption or CO2
emissions. Nevertheless, it seems certain that the automotive industry is set to increase its use of
aluminium substantially for engine cylinder blocks, chassis components and body structures.


The suppliers of primary aluminium and aluminium components

North America is by far the largest producing region for aluminium, followed by Europe and
Russia. Producers in the west generally have integrated operations, not only smelting aluminium but
also producing sheet, stock for cans, ingots for castings and extrusions. There has been a trend
recently for them to increase their downstream operations, while rationalising mining, the
production of aluminium oxide and smelting.

The suppliers of aluminium and aluminium products

Alcan Aluminium Ltd

1188 Sherbrook Street West
Canada H3A 3G2

Alcan Aluminium operates multinationally, and its operations extend from bauxite mining through
alumina refining, smelting and manufacturing. The company employs over 50,000 people directly. It
also has substantial recycling capacity.

Alcan’s principal alumina refinery is at Vaudreuil, Canada, with a capacity of 1.15m tonnes. It has
capacities of 930,000 and 650,000 tonnes respectively in joint ventures in Jamaica and Ireland, and
with stakes in other alumina refineries, owns about 3.8m tonnes annual capacity.

Primary aluminium capacity is predominantly in Canada, where seven smelters can produce 1.09m
tonnes annually. Another 600,000 tonnes capacity - including 179,000 tonnes in three smelters in
the UK - are available in 11 smelters around the world, some of which are joint ventures, including
Nippon Light Metal in Japan, in which it has a 45% stake. It also owns 48% of Toyo Aluminium,
which is involved principally in foil manufacture.

All Alcan’s power requirement in Canada are met by its own hydro-electric power plants, and
elsewhere its power stations provide about one-third of its energy requirement.

About half of the aluminium produced by Alcan is converted into rolled products in its fabricated
aluminium products division.

Alcan annual fabricating capacity, tonnes

Rolled products 1.34m
Extrusions 250,000
Wire and cable 180,000
Castings and others 180,000
Total 1.95m

Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa)
1501 Alcoa Building
PA 15219

Alcoa operates all over the world with 64,000 employees, and like Alcan is involved in all aspects
of the business. It mines bauxite in Australia, Brazil, Guinea, Jamaica and Surinam, and produces
alumina in Australia, Brazil, Jamaica, Suriname and the USA. Primary aluminium is produced in
Australia, Brazil, Norway - by Elkem, in which it has a stake - Suriname and the USA. Alcoa is the
world’s largest producer of alumina and aluminium, accounting for about 16% of world production.

Alcoa’s production of primary aluminium, 1992-4, m tonnes

1994 2.55
1993 2.58
1992 2.79
1991 2.83

Source: Alcoa

In 1994, Alcoa formed a joint venture with Western Mining to handle the two companies’ interests
in alumina and chemicals operations; Alcoa has 60%, and Western Mining 40% of the businesses.
Alcoa has a number of joint ventures with Kobe Steel in Japan, and a few years ago acquired a
majority stake in Kofem, the rolling and extrusion businesses of the Hungarian state aluminium
In November 1995, Alcoa agreed to acquire the assets of Alumix, the Italian aluminium producer.

In the USA, Alcoa has smelting capacity of 1.29m tonnes, with slightly more capacity, including
joint ventures, elsewhere. The company worked at full capacity in 1992, but since then has had
some idle smelters. In 1994, Alcoa’s US smelters operated at about 70% of capacity.

Downstream products include sheet, plate, ingots, foil, wire, rod, extrusions, castings and forgings.
Automotive Structures International, which has headquarters in Munich, Germany, and plants at
Soest, Germany and Northwood, Ohio, is responsible for promoting the concept of the extruded
frame-and-panel car structure and of supplying components for such cars. The first of these cars
was the Audi A8, and two models are being introduced in the USA this year based on a similar
concept. Proprietary technology essential to the concept include large ductile pressure die-castings
with thin walls and precision bending of extrusions.

Alcoa also formed a joint venture with CMI International to produce castings and forgings for the
automotive industry, based on the concept of the development and production of proprietary alloys,
computer aided engineering, and delivery of those alloys from the smelter to the foundry or forge.
The company is based in Ferndale, Michigan, but a plant is to be built at a cost of $40m in Norway
near Elkem’s aluminium plant at Lista.

5655 Peachtree Parkway
Georgia 30092-2812

Alumax was spun off from Amax to form an integrated aluminium company. It has primary metal
production of 773,000 tonnes per year - 468,000 in the USA and the remainder in Canada - and
hydro-electric power is used for about two-thirds of smelting. Apart from one Canadian smelter, all
are joint ventures. Output in 1993 and 1994 was around 650,000 tonnes. Downstream products
include foil, sheet, cast plate, extrusions, and semi-solid forgings for the automotive industry.
Semi-solid forging is a process in which special alloys are produced in bars, and heated to a semi-
solid state before being forced into dies. The process combines the integrity of forging with the
shape and precision of a die-casting. Alumax has just built a large plant at Jackson, Tennessee to
produce semi-solid forgings for the automotive industry.

21 Via Caldera
20153 Milan

Alumix, which has capacity to produce about 160,000 tonnes of aluminium a year, was part of
Efim, the Italian state holding company. Alumix suffered badly from the collapse in aluminium
prices affecting the whole industry, and in 1995 Alcoa agreed with EFIM, the Italian state holding
company, to acquire Alumix for around $280m. Alumix has primary aluminium capacity of
170,000 tonnes a year, and rolling capacity of 140,000 tonnes a year. It also operates four extrusion
plants with substantial capacity - 70,000 tonnes a year.

Feldeggstrasse 4
CH-8034 Zurich

Aluminium accounts for about 37% of the sales of Alusuisse. Chemicals and packaging are other
main sectors of its business. It has a 70% stake in the Gove bauxite mine and alumina refinery in
Australia, and overall controls some 5m tonnes output of bauxite, and 1.35m tonnes of alumina. It
draws about 500,000 tonnes of alumina from there for its own smelters, selling a slightly larger
amount to other producers.

Alusuisse has capacity for about 370,000 tonnes of primary aluminium in smelters in Austria,
Germany, Iceland and Norway, which is a joint venture with Norsk Hydro. Among its main
downstream processes is the production of hard alloy plates, and extrusions from hard alloys and
standard rolled plate. Other products include special sheet for lithographic printing in Europe and
the USA.

Alusuisse has a division concentrating on automotive products, and supplies a proprietary sheet for
bodies to Rover Group for the Land Rover Discovery and to Audi for the A8. The company has also
developed vacuum pressure die-casting and Thixoforming (or semi-solid forging) processes.

Anglesey Aluminium Metal Ltd
Penrhos Works, PO Box 4
Gwynedd LL65 2UJ

Anglesey Aluminium is 51% owned by RTZ and 49% by Kaiser Aluminium and Chemical
Corporation. It uses Kaiser smelting technology, and has a capacity of 127,000 tonnes a year, and in
1994 worked to full capacity, producing 126,800 tonnes from alumina supplied by the Kaiser and
RTZ. Adjacent to the smelter are facilities to cast the metal into alloys in billet, rolling ingot and
remelt pigs. There is also an extrusion billet production facility.

Comalco Ltd
55 Collins St
Victoria 3000

An integrated supplier, Comalco benefits from the vast reserves of bauxite in Australia. About 10m
tonnes of bauxite are mined at its Weipa mine in North Queensland, and it manages the Queensland
Alumina refinery in which it has a 30% stake. Annual capacity is 3.3m tonnes, and Comalco has an
entitlement of 1.4m tonnes from this and other refineries.
The company owns one smelter, and has a share in two others, with a combined capacity of 470,000
tonnes. In 1994, Comalco produced 435,000 tonnes, and with some expansion plans to have access
of 600,000 tonnes annually by 1998.

In addition to producing rolled products in Australia, Comalco has a US subsidiary, which produces
extrusions and castings, including wheels for cars. Comalco has developed an improved low-
pressure sand casting technique for complex castings such as cylinder blocks and heads, and has a
licensee in the USA. The company has also produced some special alloys for high-integrity castings.

Elkem Aluminium ANS
Nydalsveien 28
PO Box 4322 Torshov
N-0402 Oslo

Elkem Aluminium is owned by 50% by Elkem A/S and 50% by Norsk Alcoa, with Elkem providing
management. The company operates two smelters with a combined capacity of 200,000 tonnes a
year, and also buys in primary aluminium to produce alloys. It has no other downstream operations
and concentrates on the production of extrusion billets, which account for over 50% of output,
rolling ingots and foundry ingots. In 1994, it produced 199,354 tonnes of primary aluminium, but
supplied a total of about 275,000 tonnes of ingots.

The smelters are sited in areas where hydro-electric power is abundant. Elkem Aluminium has taken
a small stake in a new foundry which is to start operating adjacent to the Lista smelter in 1997. It is
the first European foundry of A-CMI, a joint venture between Alcoa and CMI International, a major
supplier of castings to the automotive industry. The new foundry will receive molten metal from the
Elkem smelter, thus reducing energy costs by 750kWh/tonne. It will employ 250 people, and will
supply suspension components, particularly large cross members, and a contract has already been
signed to supply Volvo of Sweden.

Sihhiye Cihan Sok. No.2
06443 Ankara

Etibank mines and processes various materials, with borax being its biggest business. It also mines
bauxite in Turkey at Seydisehir, where there is also an alumina plant with a capacity of 200,000
tonnes a year, and an aluminium smelter with capacity of 60,000 tonnes a year. In 1994, Etibank
mined 310,00 tonnes of ore, and produced 155,000 tonnes of alumina and 59,750 tonnes of

Graenges AB
PO Box 5505
S-114 85 Stockholm

A subsidiary of AB Electrolux, Graenges operates smelters capable of producing 98,000 tonnes of

primary aluminium annually, and in 1994 output was 84,000 tonnes. However, strong demand has
led to an increase in utilisation since then, but the company still buys substantial amounts of
aluminium from its competitors. There is also a subsidiary that recycles aluminium, Gotthard, and in
1994 it recycled 42,000 tonnes of aluminium.

The biggest division of Graenges, Sapa, produces extrusions, and is the largest extruder in Europe
with 17 extrusion presses in six countries providing a combined capacity of 110,000 tonnes. In
1994, output was 99,000 tonnes. The strip and foil division produces about 45,000 tonnes of strip
and 35,000 tonnes of foil annually.

Also in the Graenges group is Plastal-ZCP which supplies injection mouldings such as bumper
fascias and wheel trims to the car industry.

Hamburger Aluminium Werk GmbH

Dradenauer Hauptdeich 15
21129 Hamburg

Hamburger Aluminium-Werke has a smelter with a capacity of 110,000 tonnes.

Hindalco Industries
11 Camac St
Calcutta 17

Hindalco is among the lowest-cost producers of aluminium worldwide. It has its own bauxite
reserves, owns alumina refineries, smelters and fabricating equipment. It has capacity to produce
about 250,000 tonnes alumina and 180,000 tonnes aluminium annually. It benefits from cheap
electricity compared with that provided by the state.

Hoogovens Aluminium
Vondellan 10
Postbus 10.000
1970 CA Ijmuiden

The Hoogovens Groep is unusual in that it is a substantial producer of both steel and aluminium,
and at a group level wishes to see the automotive industry use both materials. Hoogovens
Aluminium operates smelters in the Netherlands and Germany, and has a 20% stake in the Alouette
smelter, Quebec, Canada, which together give it 219,000 tonnes of annual capacity. Since the two
European smelters also resmelt scrap and ingots, actual capacity for rolled slabs and ingots is
288,000 tonnes. In 1994, the smelters operated with a utilisation rate of 82%, and the company sold
284,500 tonnes of rolled products.

Main products are hot and cold rolled strip, extrusions, rods and hard alloys. Hoogovens has eight
extrusion presses with capacity of 50,000 tonnes annually, and three presses to produce hard alloy
extrusions at the rate of 5,000 tonnes a year. The company also produces foil, and has a pressure
die-cast foundry, Brabant Alucast International. It has a 50% stake in Amefo, which makes
aluminium housings for air bags - at the rate of over 4.5m a year.

At the Voerde smelter in Germany, a project to recycle slag containing aluminium has proved
successful in a pilot plant.

Inespal SA
Jose Abascal 4
28003 Madrid

Industria Espanola del Aluminio is a full-line aluminium producer, with a plant to produce alumina,
three sites for the production of primary aluminium in Spain, three for producing rolled products,
two extrusion operations, and a subsidiary that can produce up to 80,000 tonnes of secondary
aluminium annually. Inespal also produces aluminium foil. It was formed by the merger of two
Spanish aluminium companies, Endasa and Alugasa, and is state-owned.

In 1994, the company produced 1.07m tonnes of alumina, more than half of which was used in its
own smelters. Production of primary aluminium fell to 338,000 tonnes, partly because Inespal made
36,000 tonnes of capacity idle in accordance with the MoU. Total capacity is put at 360,000 tonnes,
and sales of all aluminium products was 444,000 tonnes in 1994.

One of the most recent plants in the group is the foil plant at Linares, which was opened in 1993.
Sales of extrusions amounted to 29,000 tonnes in 1994.

Kaiser Aluminum Corp

5847 San Felipe
Suite 2600
P O Box 572887
Texas 77257-2887

Kaiser Aluminum mines bauxite, refines bauxite into alumina, and produces primary aluminium. It
also produces semi-finished and finished products, and supplies a large number of components to
the automotive industry. Bauxite is mined in two joint ventures in Jamaica, giving the company
up to 5.4m tonnes a year, while Kaiser has its own alumina refinery at Gramercy in the USA, and a
28.3% stake in Queensland Alumina, giving it capacity of about 2m tonnes.

In the USA, Kaiser has capacity of 273,000 tonnes primary aluminium, and it has a 49% stake in
Anglesey Aluminium in the UK, and it has a 90% stake in Volta Aluminum in Ghana, giving Kaiser
shares of 63,000 and 180,000 tonnes a year. Therefore, total smelting capacity is 516,000 tonnes.

Kaiser produces sheet, plate, extrusions, billets, rod and bar, forgings and castings. It also has a joint
venture in Japan with Furukawa Electric and Itochu to develop and market forged and cast
aluminium components principally for the automotive industry.

Among products supplied by Kaiser to the automotive industry are side air bag brackets, housings
for anti-lock brake systems, and forged suspension links for the Chevrolet Corvette. In 1995, Kaiser
and Hoogovens Profiltechnik, Germany established a strategic alliance to supply extrusions to the
automotive and other industries.

In 1994, Kaiser Aluminum shipped 224,000 tonnes of primary aluminium and 399,000 tonnes of
finished products to customers, compared with 242,000 and 373,000 tonnes respectively in 1993.

Leichtmetall GmbH
Gatersleben Str 1
06469 Nachterstedt

Leichtmetall-Gesellschaft is one of the smaller European aluminium producers, with capacity of

136,000 tonnes primary metal a year.

Nippon Light Metal

Mita 3-13-12
Japan 108

The company has a small smelting operation, and imports the majority of the aluminium it requires,
concentrating on alloying in its ingots division. Other divisions include rolled products - annual
output is around 100,000 tonnes of rolled sheet - extrusions, castings and fabrications. It operates
two large foundries for the production of wheels for the automotive industry, and also produces
other specialised castings as well as substrate discs for magnetic memory, and products for the
construction industry.

The company has about 9% of the Japanese market for rolled aluminium products, and a similar
share of the market for aluminium sheet.

Alcan Aluminium Holdings has a 43% stake in Nippon Light Metal, (NLM) but to expand
operations in Asia, NLM is merging with Alcan Asean and Nikkei Reinetsu, one of its Japanese

Following the energy crisis, the appreciation of the yen and increases in energy prices, Japan’s
aluminium smelting industry was reduced in size drastically, from 1.7m tonnes capacity in the
1970s to 35,000 tonnes now. The remaining smelting capacity is in the NLM smelter with capacity
just balancing the output of the company’s own hydro-electric power station.

NLM has a substantial extrusion business, and is intent on increasing its share as the automotive
industry moves toward the use of aluminium. It has also developed a pore-free die-casting method,
which can be used to produce the castings required for vehicles with structures of aluminium
frames, and indeed has built a demonstration vehicle frame of this type.

Norsk Hydro
Bygdoy alle 2
0240 Oslo

Although Norsk Hydro is the largest producer of aluminium in Europe, its light metals division
accounts for only 29% of the group’s business. Partly as a result of acquisitions, Norsk Hydro has
been the largest maker of fertilisers in the world for some years, and it obtains substantial revenues
from the operation of oil and gas fields in the North Sea.

Its light metals division consists primarily of Hydro Aluminium and Hydro Magnesium. In 1986,
Norsk Hydro’s aluminium division was merged with ASV to produce Hydro Aluminium, which has
a capacity of 650,000 tonnes primary aluminium. The company benefits from the low price of
hydro-electric power in Norway, and also of gas from the North Sea. To ensure supplies of raw
materials, Hydro Aluminium took a stake in alumina plants in Jamaica and Guinea in the 1980s.

It has also expanded its downstream operations through acquisitions - such as the purchase of
Alcan’s five European extrusion plants. It is unusual in that it converts most of its primary
aluminium into semi-finished products, with a capacity for 300,000 tonnes of extrusions and
150,000 of other products annually.

Currently, most of the extrusions are sold for construction use, through two main outlets, one in
northern Europe, and another in southern Europe. Recently, Hydro Aluminium has been promoting
its extruded frame concept for car bodies aggressively to add an extra plank to that business, and has
signed a technical agreement with Sumitomo Light Metal, under which the Japanese company gains
access to its extruded frame technology.

It already supplies around 26,000 tonnes of aluminium products to the automotive industry,
principally in the form of aluminium tubes for heat exchangers in Europe and the USA, and cast
aluminium wheels to BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and some others.

Hydro Magnesium is one of the two major suppliers of magnesium worldwide, with about 40,000
tonnes capacity at Bacancour, Canada. Half the output goes for alloying into aluminium, and only
15% is used as magnesium in its own right, a situation that is expected to change as the automotive
industry drives to lower weight.

23 Place des Vosges
La Defense 5
92048 Paris

Pechiney, the French state-owned aluminium company, is one of the larger aluminium producers in
Europe with 293,000 tonnes annual primary aluminium capacity in France and 175,000 tonnes in
the Netherlands. It also has interests in smelters in Australia and Canada, and controls annual
outputs of 3m tonnes of bauxite and 2m tonnes of alumina. Following an agreement on energy
pricing with Electricité de France, it opened a new smelter at Dunkerque in 1994. It has also closed
down three older smelters in France.

Pechiney also produces a substantial amount of rolled products, extrusions and speciality aluminium
products. It owns an aerospace company which produces components made of titanium. Packaging
is Pechiney's biggest business, accounting for 46% of sales, while aluminium accounts for 27%.

Reynolds Metals Company
6601 West Broad St
VA 23230

Reynolds Metals operates principally in North America and produces gold and plastics as well as
aluminium, and has a diversified product line including packaging, consumer products, cans,
extrusions and product for the construction industry.

The company can produce 1.7m tonnes of alumina, and has smelting capacity of about 1.0m tonnes,
and with the increase of its stake in the Becancour smelter from 25 to 50% has increased capacity by
another 93,000 tonnes a year. Its capacity is almost equally divided between smelters in the USA
and Canada. In 1994, utilisation was about 64%. However, total shipments of all aluminium
products reached 1.57m tonnes, up from 1.49m tonnes in 1993. The company expects total
worldwide demand to increase by about 4% a year until 2000, with the automotive industry showing
the biggest increase in demand.

Reynolds Metals has 30 plants supplying products such as wheels, anti-intrusion door beams,
bumpers and heat exchanger tubing to the automotive industry. Bumpers are produced in the USA
and the Netherlands from multi-void extrusions by patented sweep forming technique.

Capacity for extrusions in the USA has recently been doubled to about 190,000 tonnes a year.
Reynolds Metal supplies sheet to Ford and GM for bonnets and boot lids and also produces
aluminium propeller shaft extrusions for Ford. Reynolds has formed a joint venture with Mitsubishi
Aluminium to produce extrusions for cars, and has an agreement for the production of sheet with
Sumitomo Light Metal - both in Japan.

Salzburger Aluminium AG
A-5651 Lend

One of the smaller aluminium companies in Europe, Salzburger Aluminium closed its smelter in
1992, and concentrates on the production of billets and alloys for casting. In 1995, it produced
35,000 tonnes of billets and ingots, and expects this to rise to 40,000 tonnes in 1996. Foundry
alloys are produced in a continuous casting process which produces good quality. A new alloy,
Thixalloy, which is intended for semi-solid forging, has been developed.

Showa Aluminium
Kaisan-cho 6-224
Japan 590

A subsidiary of Showa Denko, the petrochemical company, Showa Aluminium has concentrated on
producing aluminium products rather than on the production of rolled products which account for
only 6% of sales. Aluminium products contribute 56% to sales, and extruded products 23%. The
company has a 5% share of the Japanese market for rolled aluminium products.

Showa Aluminium is a major supplier of aluminium condensers and evaporators to Japanese and
European car manufacturers, and established a subsidiary in the USA to supply Ford and others.

It has developed a direct casting method, Shotic, in which molten metal is forced into extrusion dies
to produce tough aluminium alloy rod. It is used for the production of aluminium forgings. The
company supplies the material for cylinder blocks for the Toyota Lexus, and with the expectation of
greater demand in the future, the company has increased capacity for aluminium alloys to 150,000
tonnes a year.

Sumitomo Light Metal

Shimbashi Sumitomo Building
5-11-3 Shimbashi
Tokyo 105

Sumitomo Light Metal started rolling aluminium in 1898, and commenced smelting in 1976, and in
1979 set up SLM Australia which took a stake in Boyne Smelters, Australia. Because smelting costs
were lower in Australia than in Japan, the company ceased smelting in Japan in 1982.

Since then it has concentrated on the production of cold-rolled plates and sheet and extrusions. It
also produces copper and titanium alloy products, with a combined capacity of 66,000 tonnes. It
holds about 21% of the Japanese market for aluminium sheet, and 13% of the market for rolled

In 1991, the company produced 230,000 tonnes of rolled sheet - about 13% of the Japanese market -
and 70,000 tonnes of extrusions. It has since completed a remodelling of its rolling mills, at a cost
of ¥27bn. It entered into a technical collaboration arrangement with Reynolds Metals for the
development of aluminium sheets for car bodies, and curved extrusions for bumper beams. More
recently, it concluded a licensing agreement with Hydro Aluminium under which it will produce
extrusions for car body structures in Japan.

D-5300 Bonn 1

VAW is part of the VIAG group and now has annual capacity of 400,000 tonnes of primary
aluminium, and in 1994 production reached 390,200 tonnes, down 7% from 1993. With purchases
of other primary aluminium, it was able to sell 505,000 tonnes internally and externally, with
295,000 tonnes being supplied to downstream operations. A total of 170,800 tonnes of ingots for
rolling, which represents 81% of capacity, were supplied, principally to group operations.

In 1994, the company shipped 289,000 tonnes of rolled products, up 12% from 1993. Other
products include foil, extrusions, special alloys for lithography, flexible packaging, and automotive
castings (see separate section). Included in the extrusions division are three extrusion press

operations in the USA. VAW also has a 51% stake in VAW CDP Aluminiumtechnik which
supplies forgings to the automotive industry.

Principal investments have recently been centred in aluminium, with a new aluminium foundry in
Canada, and an aluminium can factory in Germany.

Principal suppliers of components

1600 West Eight Mile Road
Michigan 48220

Formed by Alcoa and CMI International Inc, a major supplier of aluminium castings, A-CMI
intends to combine the benefits of the best technology in alloys, forging and casting techniques.
Alcoa will develop alloys proprietary with superior properties for casting, and the two companies
will combine CAE experience to provide prototypes and castings by conventional or advanced
methods. Another benefit is that Alcoa will be able to supply molten alloy to the foundry, thus
reducing energy costs. A-CMI is also to offer full machining services. The first European foundry to
be set up by A-CMI will be at Lista, Norway.

Cosworth Castings
Buckholt Drive
Worcester WR4 9ND

Cosworth Castings was set up following work done by Cosworth Engineering to improve the quality
of high-performance castings for racing engines in the 1970s. It subsequently developed a low-
pressure high-precision sand casting process. One of the first customers was Mercedes-Benz, which
selected Cosworth to produce the castings for its first cylinder head with four valves per cylinder.

The process is based on the pumping of molten aluminium electro-magnetically from an enclosed
holding furnace beneath the cores, which are arranged as a package. There are many key features
which are patented. The company operates one foundry, which has capacity to produce 430,000
moulds a year, but has invested £25m (30mECU) in a new foundry to increase capacity beyond
1.0m castings a year. Each mould can produce one cylinder block or two large cylinder heads or two
small ones.

In addition, Ford of the USA operates a foundry at Windsor, Ontario which produces blocks and
heads for its V-6 2.5 and 3.0 litre Duratec engine under a Cosworth licence. It tooled up originally
to produce 1.2m moulds a year - 600,000 blocks and 1.2m heads - with just three Cosworth casting
machines initially, but the foundry is now being expanded to produce 1.8m moulds a year.

Honsel-Werke AG
Postfach 1364
D-59870 Meschede

Honsel-Werke casts billets from primary aluminium it purchases, and operates in three different
areas: rolled plates, sheets and coils, which are cast from billets produced in-house; castings,
produced by high and low pressure die-casting, gravity die-casting, lost foam and sand casting; and
the extrusion of complex sections, including those used by Alcoa for the Audi A8. In all these
operations, it produces the alloys itself, rather than relying on suppliers.

It claims to be the largest independent jobbing aluminium foundry in Germany, with about 10% of
the market, and operates a recycling plant which converts scrap into the alloys required in the
foundry. It produces cylinder blocks and heads and other automotive castings for customers such as
BMW, Ford, Saab, Volvo and VW. It also produces magnesium castings. The main foundries in
Germany are at Meschede and Solingen, but there is a high pressure die-casting foundry at
Nurnberg, and a foundry dedicated to titanium and aluminium investment castings at Bestwig.
There are three foundries in France: Fonderie Messier at Arudy, produces special castings for
aerospace and manufacturers of motor racing cars; Fonderie Messial at Bondoufle produces die-
castings, and Fonderie Lorraine, Grosbliederstroff produces high pressure die-castings.

Honsel-Werke’s principal extrusion press operation is at Soest, Germany, where it has three presses
from 2,000 to 4,400 tonnes.

Kolbenschmidt AG
PO Box 13 51
D-74150 Neckarsulm

Kolbenschimdt is a major supplier of pistons and rings to the car industry, and has specialised
foundries to produce the pistons. In addition, it has a sub-group, KS Aluminium-Technologie AG,
which operates high and low pressure and gravity die-casting foundries, concentrating on the
production of aluminium cylinder blocks, heads and housings - many of which are used for its oil
and water pump housing division. This sub-group was to have been hived off, but this move was
unsuccessful, so efforts have been made to rejuvenate it.

The company supplies low-pressure die-cast V-8 cylinder blocks to BMW, and also high-pressure
cast Volvo six-cylinder blocks. It has developed Lokasil, an aluminium MMC material for cylinder
liners to be cast into aluminium cylinder blocks. The material has excellent resistance to wear, and
so eliminates the need for iron liners. The first use will be for the engine of the Porsche Boxster, but
volume orders are to follow.

Raufoss Automotive
P O Box 15
2831 Raufoss

Part of the Raufoss Group, Raufoss Automotive is one of the largest European suppliers of
aluminium forgings and extrusions to the automotive industry. It is a specialist, producing safety
critical components such as suspension arms as forgings. Another of its specialities is the
production of extruded bumper beams, which are bent to the curved shapes of the front and rear end
of cars. These are typically U-section, or double box-section, and some are formed over part of the

beam only in a secondary operation. Other products include extruded windscreen surrounds, sub-
frames, steering columns and extruded anti-intrusion door beams.

Teksid SpA
Via Pianezza 123

A subsidiary of Fiat, Teksid supplies iron and steel castings, aluminium castings and steel forgings,
principally to the automotive industry. About 65% of its total output is supplied to Fiat, which uses
cast iron cylinder blocks for almost all its engines. Annual production of aluminium castings totals
about 75,000 tonnes, and accounts for 42% of sales.

Overseas customers include Chrysler, Ford, for which Teksid gravity casts the 4.6 litre V-8 engine
blocks, Isuzu of Japan and various companies in Brazil. It also produces blocks with Nicasil
coatings for BMW.

The company is one of the few in Europe to produce aluminium castings by the lost-foam or
Policast process. In this process, a replica of the cast shape is produced in polystyrene foam, and
inserted in sand. The molten metal melts the foam out, and filling the remaining cavity to produce a
precision casting. Teksid uses this process principally to produce induction manifolds and
camshaft/tappet housings, but is also producing cylinder heads for the Fiat Fire engine by this
process. It is developing means of casting MMC (metal matrix composite) materials based on
aluminium for brake discs and suspension components.

Teksid operates aluminium foundries at Carmagnola, and Borgaretto, Italy; Bielsko-Biata, Poland;
Betim, Brazil; and Dickson, Tennessee, USA. The plant at Dickson supplies cylinder heads to Ford,
GM, Chrysler and Daewoo. It has recently been expanded to increase capacity of V-8 cylinder heads
for Ford to 950,000 castings a year.

VAW Motor GmbH

Friedrich-Woehler-Strasse 2
D-53014 Bonn

The aluminium foundries within the VAW Group have been concentrated in VAW Motor. The
companies are: VAW alucast, Dillingen, Germany; VAW mandl & berger, Linz, Austria; VAW
west yorkshire foundries, Leeds, UK; Suedalumin, Munich, Germany; and VAW
aluminiumtechnika, Hungary. The company also has a 37% stake in Eisenwerke Bruehl, Bonn,
Germany, and is establishing a joint venture in Mexico to serve the North American industry.

VAW alucast is a new operation set up with an investment of DM250m to produce aluminium
cylinder blocks and heads at the rate of 425,000 a year for Ford of Europe. The foundry is based on
a new method for precision sand casting in which cores are built up in a stack. The blocks and heads
are for the Ford Zetec-SE 1.25 and 1.4 litre engine, and to meet the demand, the plant operates three

shifts a day, and can produce a casting every 45 seconds. Production started in the spring of 1995,
and is due to reach full capacity by the end of 1996.

It had been planned to build a second line to double output of castings for Ford, but since Ford has
decided to produce this engine at Bridgend, Wales, as well as at Valencia, VAW alucast will build a
second foundry to operate by this method in the UK.

VAW mandl & berger produces gravity, low pressure and high pressure cylinder heads. Some
machining is also carried out. One of the main customers is GM, for which it produces cylinder
heads for 1.4 and 1.6 litre engines.

VAW west yorkshire foundries produces engine cylinder blocks and heads by the gravity die-casting
process. Main customers include Rover Group, for blocks for the V-8, K4 and KV6 engines, and
GM for L4 and V6 cylinder heads. A new foundry, to serve Rover and GM was built in 1995.

Suedalumin supplies a variety of castings, while VAW aluminium technika, Hungary, is the newest
operation in the group, coming into operation this year. It will produce cylinder heads for the new
GM 0.9-1.2 litre three- and four-cylinder engines.


Possible recommendations for help to industry

As shown in this report, the intensive use of aluminium in vehicle manufacture - the frame-and-
panel construction is ideal for truck cabs and buses as well as cars - is beneficial to industry, the
consumer, society and the environment. Therefore, there are good reasons why the EU could
encourage this development.

Encouragement could come in the form of assistance to firms that will lose business to switch to
products with more future, and in R&D projects with industry to see that developments are speeded
up so that the European automotive industry remains competitive. This is particularly important
because the frame-and-panel body allows cars to be built in a new way which can make manufacture
more flexible. Possible projects include:

1. A survey of the iron foundry industry that serves the automotive industry to investigate how
much is endangered, and what can be done to alleviate the problem. For example, R&D into lost
foam iron and steel casting could lead to new business - such as casting of crankshafts and other
heavy-duty components - with a cleaner process. Training might be given to enable firms to
switch from the production of iron castings to aluminium and magnesium.

2. An R&D project to find ways of increasing the life of extrusion dies from the current level of
30,000-40,000 tonnes to 100,000 tonnes would not only reduce the costs of extruded frames, but
would also reduce waste, since less material would be used to produce dies.

3. Projects to develop highly productive means of bending extrusions, by stretch bending, CNC
bending or hydroforming would also be beneficial. Research could also be undertaken to
compare the effectiveness, energy costs and environmental impact of welding, self-piercing
rivets and adhesive bonding, as these are critical processes.

4. Because suspension components are safe-critical items, some manufacturers may be reluctant to
switch to aluminium without extensive testing. A testing programme to establish the suitability
of various types of aluminium casting, squeeze casting and thixoforming for suspension arms
and links could be carried out in conjunction with the vehicle makers and suppliers to speed up
the process of the switch to aluminium in these areas.

5. Another area where encouragement is needed is in recycling of the aluminium of old cars. The
capital required to install sorting machines that can sort between different materials is
substantial, and is increased once it is deemed necessary to sort aluminium into its alloys. Such
sorting will be preferable by the end of the century, and development of less costly means of
sorting would be beneficial, as might some tax allowances for capital invested in this
equipment. Encouragement of recycling of all metals is also desirable.