Automotive Manufacturing Solutions Quotes NanoSteel’s Parsons in Latest Steel Piece

  • July 27, 2018

  • Steel makes a strong case 

    With the push for powertrain electrification gaining strength producers of high-strength steel are preparing themselves to capitalise reports, James Bakewell

    In 2017, global sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) reached 1.3m units, according to Frédéric Painchault, head of Global Automotive Marketing at steelmaker ArcelorMittal. “This represents a low share of total vehicles sales – less than 2%. However, the market is growing quickly, by over 57% compared with 2016. Global automakers are reportedly planning to launch approximately 340 BEV and PHEV models over the next three years. This means sales should reach almost 5m units in 2020”.

    And that’s just the start. Basjan Berkhout, marketing manager for Automotive at Tata Steel Europe, adds: “Tata Steel expects electric vehicles (EVs) to make up 90% of vehicle sales [in the European Union (EU)] by 2050.”

    Environmental legislation is the primary motive for the automotive industry to move towards electric powertrains. The EU, for example, has mandated that new cars can emit no more than 130g of carbon dioxide per kilometre travelled. This target will be lowered to 95g per kilometre in 2021, phased in from 2020, and is likely to get even more stringent in 2030.

    The level of take-up of electric drivetrains varies from region to region. Berkhout says that the single biggest influence remains the Chinese market, where the government has set mandatory EV production quotas for OEMs operating there to reduce tailpipe emissions.  With China being the single largest profit market for most OEMs, the risk of ignoring this is far too great.  Another pressure is improving air quality targets cities. The tightening of tailpipe emissions in the EU has also now been brought into sharper focus following the fallout from the diesel scandal and the pending shift later this year to the new WLTP emissions test.

    Painchault adds: “Uncertainty on Corporate Average Fuel Economy [CAFÉ] regulations in the US may mean that growth in the NAFTA region is not as high. In Europe and China, ArcelorMittal is forecasting that the combined number of BEV and PHEV sales will exceed internal combustion engine [ICE] sales by around 2025. Most of the growth will come from PHEVs. Our scenario for 2030 is that each type of vehicle – PHEV, BEV and ICE – will account for one-third of sales. Within fifteen to twenty years, non-ICE vehicles should dominate the market.”

    Gaining a place in the electric future

    The steel industry is typically bullish about its place in the electric future. For instance, in a recent report, Tata Steels says that increasing demand for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) will drive growth in steel supply to the automotive industry by 4.2m tonnes in Europe alone.

    In recent years innovation, not to mention profits, in the automotive materials industry have been driven primarily by the need for lighter and/or stronger products that allow carmakers to reduce the mass of their ICE vehicles – thereby lowering their fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. In early EVs too, such as BMW’s i3 or Tesla’s Model S, lightweight materials have been key (carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) and aluminium, respectively).

    With ICE vehicles, consumers are used to being able to drive several hundreds of kilometres before they have to re-fuel. To achieve a comparable range from a single charge of a BEV, a very large, expensive and heavy battery has had to be used, meaning that carmakers have had to cut weight elsewhere in the vehicle. Will this always be the case?

    The president of automotive at NanoSteel, Craig Parsons, says: “Yes, it is likely that electric vehicles have more incentive to lightweight than ICE vehicles.  A battery always has a finite amount of power storage, and therefore range, and reducing weight equals a direct increase in total vehicle range, which is the largest design hurdle faced by EVs.  Batteries are very heavy and every pound saved in the vehicle will either make more room for a longer life battery, and/or a less powerful battery for the vehicle to travel a given distance.”

    ‎Business development manager for Automotive SSAB, Jonas Adolfsson, concurs. He says that regardless of the powertrain employed, the physics involved in a vehicle’s movement remain the same. The resisting forces to motion are acceleration, rolling resistance, gradient and wind resistance. All but the latter are strongly influenced by the weight of the vehicle. He says: “Batteries have much worse energy density [Watt-hours per kilogramme] compared with gasoline or diesel powerplants, so I would say that lightweighting would be even more important.”

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