Trends and prospects: How will the relationship between automobility and steel develop in future? Ingo Olschewski, Senior Manager for Strategy and Consulting at the Forschungsgesellschaft Kraftfahrwesen mbH Aachen (fka), offered answers during the 11th voestalpine synergy platform.
Mr. Olschewski, when we talk about the car of the future we hear a lot about e-cars, about trends and even megatrends, so what are the issues shaping the automotive industry?
Ingo Olschewski: Basically, the developments we describe as megatrends are cultural and demographic changes, and above all the response to climate change. They include the urbanization of large regions, with all the associated problems of flowing and stationary traffic. It also covers the cultural change which influences the attitude of future generations of vehicle purchasers, such as the growing acceptance of mobility models based on car sharing or mobility services. And last but not least, the main driver of automotive change, climate change. Emissions regulations require huge changes to vehicle fleets. To date OEMs have understood the necessity of partly restructuring, and/or entering into strategic partnerships, for example with battery and software producers.
What are the factors most greatly influencing the use of steel in future automotive construction?
The major factors to highlight are legislative decisions on emissions, and changing user behaviors. Will there be much greater demand for self-driving vehicles with their primary focus on active protection when driving in cities? How will car sharing develop? And life cycle assessment considerations when evaluating vehicles—for which steel is ideal—will have an impact, even though other materials are being increasingly used in this area.
What will be the demands made on future steels?
Lightweight construction is an increasingly important topic. Here stability is essential, especially in view of the trend towards equipping vehicles with larger battery packs. High-strength and ultra high-strength steels can make a major contribution in this respect. Extending the capabilities and properties of steel to further improve their toughness and rigidity is certainly a challenge for the steel manufacturers, but will be appreciated by the OEMs.
What is the forecast for steel demand in automotive construction?
Steel will remain an essential material in cars, despite trends towards lightweight construction involving alternative metals such as aluminum and magnesium, or carbon fiber. In terms of costs alone, steel is the number one choice for automotive manufacturers, especially for so-called volume vehicles.
As well as its use in the car body, steel is also used in the powertrain and in wheels… Without giving too much away, the results of our study give absolutely no indication that steel will lose out to competitor materials in automotive construction over the coming decades.
In future will there still be ONE main material, or will there always be a combination of materials?
That will partly depend on how the trends we have mentioned continue to develop. Autonomous vehicles used purely in urban areas may be constructed utilizing lighter materials or a broader mix of materials. However, for reasons of safety, vehicles used for long-distance journeys are more likely to be manufactured with materials which, although lightweight, are extremely strong and able to absorb deforming forces, for example, during an accident.
Methods of lightweight construction using hybrid materials are, of course, also interesting, but they then require intelligent end-of-use solutions.