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Auto demand for aluminum to continue growing: DruckerFrontier

Fort Lauderdale, Florida — Aluminum demand from the global automotive industry should remain strong as the industry adapts to higher emissions standards, electrification and fuel efficiency, Scott Ulnick, managing principal of consultancy DruckerFrontier, said Tuesday.

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"The electrification of power trains, certainly in automotive and what that means for aluminum and for other materials, is a pretty good story," Ulnick said in a presentation at the S&P Global Platts Aluminum Symposium.

Carbon dioxide "emissions, and how that plays into the use of automotive aluminum, is still the backdrop of what's very important to talk about," he added. "Fuel-emission standards globally are driving the use of aluminum in North America as well as other regions."

Those standards were driven by changes in safety as well as fuel efficiency.

Related coverage: New automotive technologies will change aluminum demand: Audubon VP

Ulnick said the net aluminum use per vehicle in North America had grown from 84 lb in 1984 to a projected 466 lb in 2020. By 2025, the amount per vehicle is expected to grow to 520-565 lb.

But making vehicles more CO2 emission compliant through electrification is expensive, and the US government offers no incentives similar to those offered in China and the EU, he said.

By 2025, the average battery-electric vehicle will contain twice as much wrought aluminum products as internal combustion-engine and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles, Ulnick said.

As an example, Ulnick pointed to the current Model S from Tesla, which contains 435 lb of aluminum autobody sheet, which is used in closure parts, body parts and the battery container.

Though aluminum usage will continued to grow, steel – particularly high-tensile strength steels – will continue to have the largest single material share in light-passenger vehicles.

Ulnick said advanced high-strength steels (AHSS) and ultra-high-strength steels (UHSS) will total 431 lb/vehicle in 2020. That is expected to grow to 570 lb/vehicle by 2025, he added.

Steel sheet currently accounts for about 53% of the material make-up in a 2020 vehicle, with other steels accounting for 15%. Aluminum comprises about 13%.

But to achieve a body weight reduction of 270 lb/vehicle by 2025, steel sheet will have to drop to 32%, and aluminum will have to grow to 16%. Ulnick said. Other steel grades are expected to remain at 15%.

Automakers are not expected to change the material make-up of vehicles sold in different markets. Nearly 40% of the vehicles produced by major automakers are produced on a global platform, Ulnick said.

"So the [original equipment manufacturers] are not going to make a vehicle compliant for one market. They want a vehicle for the North American market and sell that same platform in Europe and China."

The global transportation industry accounted for 32% of aluminum demand in 2019.