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Steel plays a crucial role in the automotive industry worldwide

Steel on the move

With a market-leading automotive division, we continue to invest in new products and solutions that will keep the company at the cutting-edge of the industry

ArcelorMittal’s portfolio of steel products and solutions is diverse, encompassing many sectors and industries. A major area in which the company has invested, and achieved, is one that has a direct impact on the everyday lives of billions of people across the globe – the automotive industry.

It is hard to underplay ArcelorMittal’s influence on commercial vehicle production. Our steel products – advanced high-strength, galvanised and coated materials – are present in around 20% of the world’s cars.

The industry is one in which steel has traditionally played a crucial role – and that looks set to continue thanks to advances in design led by the ArcelorMittal automotive division.

Jean-Luc Thirion, head of automotive product portfolio, global research and development, says: “One of the biggest challenges in automotive right now is cost-effective lightweighting. Many competing materials are looking to take over applications that have traditionally been made of steel, offering to provide lighter weight, better fuel efficiency and better performance.”

Making cars lighter

But through our pioneering S-in motion technology, we have enabled carmakers to reduce the weight of body-in-white and chassis of modern five-door C-segment vehicle bodies by as much as 19% – the direct consequence of which is a dramatic reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

“We’ve shown that because of the greater strength and stiffness steel brings, we can actually produce solutions that are not only lighter than some of these other competing materials, we can do so with a much lower overall lifetime carbon footprint,” Thirion adds.

It is this innovation that keeps us at the forefront of car development. As an indication of how important we see the automotive industry for our company, more than half of our product research and development spend is invested into it.

We have developed products and techniques that have helped reduce the weight of cars while maintaining optimum performance. These include laser-welded blanks, in which different steel grades are welded together to create a component. Without laser-welded blanks, more steel would be required to produce the same part – meaning the finished vehicle would be heavier. Similarly, our tubular products division in Europe works closely with vehicle development, creating steel tubes to replace previously solid parts. This has become a vital way of reducing a car’s weight while also maintaining strength.

The investment in automotive is therefore significant, and so is the return. In 2010, the division recorded US$12.3bn revenue, and supplied 13.5 million tonnes of flat steel to the car industry.

Collaboration in research

Part of the reason for our market dominance is our investment in research and development (R&D), but the way we work with car manufacturers also has a major impact on our influence in the sector. We don’t just supply materials, we work in partnership with car producers to provide services and solutions, and have an integrated global management structure to support our automotive customers around the world.

Lou Schorsch, head of R&D and automotive, explains: “We complement our labs by locating scientists at plants and, most importantly, engineers at customer locations, not only in North America and Europe but also in Asia. This goes well beyond the standard practice of having technical service reps – at many key customers we now have many resident engineers on site involved in design work and material selection.”

A prime example of this is at Toyota’s design centre in Japan, where ArcelorMittal is the first non-Japanese steel company to have a materials engineer on site. As a result of this close co-operation with manufacturers, we are able to provide immediate and relevant solutions, and offer exceptional value – as well as ensure that our own automotive product developments remain at the forefront of industry needs.

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