Aluminum is the new buzzword in the automotive industry. The latest Range Rover and Range Rover Sport both take advantage of the lightweight material to shave huge amounts of body fat (only it’s called “aluminium” over there). Audi and Jaguar have been using the stuff for years in their A8 and XJ, respectively, and now, aluminum is going mainstream, arriving on the 2015 Ford F-150.
While I am excited to see aluminum make an impact outside the premium market, its widespread adoption apparently won’t come without some problems, notably in terms of supply. “There isn’t an automotive manufacturer that makes vehicles in North America that we’re not talking to,” Tom Boney, of Novelis, the largest global supplier of aluminum sheet metal, told The Detroit News.
According to Boney, Ford’s use of aluminum on such a large scale has forced auto manufacturers in “every boardroom” to reconsider their plans following the F-150’s unveiling, for one simple reason: there’s not exactly enough aluminum to go around, at least in the short term. The auto industry currently only accounts for six percent of the aluminum sheet produced, but as the material is adopted by more and more brands, that figure is expected to swell to 25 percent within the next six years.
According to The Detroit News, Ford has already positioned itself to control a hefty supply of aluminum sheet metal, while aluminum manufacturers are still working to ramp up capacity. Novelis and its major rival, Alcoa, are feverishly working to build new plants, a process Boney says takes about 30 months. Alcoa is adding two new US factories and one in Saudi Arabia.
“These are investments we are making to meet that demand,” says Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery. “Most of that capacity is spoken for. The sooner you get to us, the better. I think automakers understand that.”