If you plan on purchasing a pickup truck in the next 10 years, chances are good that all or part of that truck's body will be constructed of aluminum. As many as 75% of trucks will be made of aluminum by 2025 according to one study.
Why are automakers switching from steel to aluminum?
Rising federal fuel efficiency standards are motivating vehicle manufacturers to find ways to improve gas mileage without sacrificing vehicle power or durability. Automakers are required to achieve fleet wide averages of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Some design engineers have developed electric cars and hybrids to address fuel economy. Other automakers have chosen to focus on lowering the weight of vehicles. That's where the aluminum helps.
Using aluminum for body components cuts vehicle weight significantly. In the first substantially aluminum pickup truck produced, the formerly steel-bodied vehicle dropped 700 pounds of weight merely by using aluminum in its manufacture.
Aluminum use involves huge changes for automakers.
Converting auto plants to accommodate aluminum manufacture requires vast retooling and retraining of employees. Workers who are familiar with the properties and assembly processes of steel panels must be retrained. Rather than using spot welders to join panels, they'll be assembling vehicles with rivet guns, no-spark welders and glue machines.
Finding supplies of aluminum could become an issue, but fortunately aluminum is nearly 100% recyclable. Plants will return scrap aluminum to be recycled and reused, which is a sustainable practice that helps ensure a supply of raw materials.
What are the pros and cons for drivers?
The new aluminum made trucks should be able to haul heavier load because of their reduced weight. Drivers will have increased fuel mileage with the lighter vehicles.
Body panels made of aluminum won't rust as steel does, so cars and trucks will be on the road longer. The vehicles will be valuable as scrap when they have served their time.
On the negative side, some worry that the vehicles themselves will become attractive to thieves. There is also the massive retraining of auto body repair professionals involved, so that they become proficient in repairing aluminum body damage.
As with any innovation, using aluminum for vehicle bodies is an interesting development. Automakers will have a learning curve as they discover which processes and techniques work best. Auto repair shops will have the same challenges as more aluminum cars hit the road.
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