Aluminum’s been used in the automotive industry practically from day one of the mass production of aluminum. In 1899 the first full aluminum body car, the Durkopp sports car, was showcased at an international exhibition in Berlin. And in 1901 the first aluminum engine made its debut at a race in Nice: it had been built by the famous German inventor Karl Benz. In 1962 legendary racer Mickey Thompson drove a car powered by an aluminum engine in the Indianapolis 500 race and finished in record time. A lot of companies later improved on this basic aluminum engine design and used it in various mass produced and racing models, including in Formula-1 race cars. Interest in aluminum parts surged after the oil crisis of the 1970s. Obsessed with fuel economy, car designers started replacing heavy steel parts with lighter aluminum substitutes to reduce the overall weight of their vehicles.
The car is the most common type of transport in the world. The main building material used in cars is the relatively cheap steel. However, as the automotive industry begins to pay more and more attention to fuel efficiency, reducing CO2 emissions and design, aluminum is playing an ever more important role in modern cars.
In 2014 the global automotive industry (excluding China) consumed 2.87 million tonnes of aluminum. By 2020 it’s expected to be consuming 4.49 million tonnes of aluminum a year. Key factors of this growth include both rising automotive production and wider use of aluminum in modern cars.
Every kilogram of aluminum used in a car reduces the overall weight of the vehicle by one kilogram. For this reason more and more car parts are being made from aluminum: engine radiators, wheels, bumpers, suspension parts, engine cylinder blocks, transmission bodies and body parts: the hoods, the doors and even the frame. As a result since the 1970s the share of aluminum in the overall weight of an average car has been constantly on the increase: from 35 kg in the 1970s to today’s 152 kg. Experts project that by 2025 average aluminum content in a car will reach 250 kg.
Aluminum was first used in car bodies in the premium segment. Thus, the first mass produced car with a full aluminum body was the Audi A8, which made its debut in 1994. Other luxury brands soon followed suit: BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Land Rover, Jaguar.
Reprinted From UC RUSAL