The Steel Drive: The Role of Steel in Today’s Automotive Industry 

Modern automated factory for the manufacture, processing and milling of metal parts, pipes and sparesSteel is a standard material of choice for many products today. It’s in our kitchens, utensils, homes, office buildings, and, of course, our cars. A world without steel would look and feel very different. This beloved alloy has improved our lives in many ways and plays a major role in the construction industry, industrial uses, factories, and many of our daily necessities. It’s why here at Steel Specialities we love all things steel and like to explore the history of steel in our lives. As steel fabricators, we like to see the many lives that this great material lives, so we thought we’d take a look at the role that steel has played in the automotive industry from the early Ford T-model to the latest cars. 

The Many Grades of Structural Steel

Steel comes in different types and grades. It is an alloy of iron with some added carbon. Its versatility allows its use in different applications from construction to the automotive industry. The different grades of steel must be chosen for any given application. It’s why each industry requires a variety of different kinds of steel. The most common types are:

  • Carbon steels
  • High Strength Low Alloy Steels
  • Forged Steels
  • Quenched and Tempered Alloy Steel

Americans Love to Drive!

America is a giant country and the automobile plays a large role in our lives. The invention of the automobile kickstarted a cultural revolution in the country that would help transform our society for decades to come. Then, with the enactment of the 1921 Federal Highway Act, America has become a mobile society that loves to explore new frontiers and drive off into the horizon. The World Steel Association estimates that the automotive industry accounts for 12% of overall global steel consumption. In 2019, 91.8 million vehicles were produced.  There is about 900 kg of steel used per vehicle. From 1980 to 2010, the percentage of steel used in vehicles in comparison with other materials has grown.  For new vehicle designs, Advanced High-Stress Steels (AHSS) are fast becoming the standard. This type of steel makes up about 60% of today’s auto body structure. This type of steel clearly meets performance demands and has proven itself a reliable material for cars of all shapes and sizes. 

Changes to Steel After World War II

We’ve written in past posts about the use of steel for the war effort during World War II. The major mobilization required for the war was massive and during that time the use of steel in the automotive industry would change as well. During the 1930s there were big innovations both in mechanics and body design. Purchases of vehicles skyrocketed. As the war hit, production came to a stop in order to assist the war effort. Once production continued, new ways of assembling cars and new materials had made their way into the industry. 

One of the major changes that occurred during the war effort was the production of the beloved Jeep. The first Jeep prototype was built in 1940 by an Ohio-based company  Willys-Overland Motors and named the Willys Quad. It’s heavy torque and durability, as well as steel body made it a great use for military purposes. The Jeep became an incredible asset during the war and 300,000 rolled off the factory floors. After the war, the company chose to manufacture Jeeps for the consumer. Jeeps continue to be a favorite of many Americans today. A few years ago, Fiat-Chrysler made a decision to try and make an all aluminum-bodied Jeep Wrangler.  The idea was to make the vehicle lighter and to reduce its weight. Yet, aluminum is not as flexible as steel and thus would require three times the thickness to withstand the pressures possible with steel. They quickly went back on the idea and returned to the steel.  

Soon consumers and legislators began to look for ways to reduce emissions and pollution. The EPA was created and the concern about pollution began trickling into every industry including the auto industry. There was a discussion of high-strength steel alternatives but car manufacturers began approaching alternatives like aluminum. 

Why Is Steel a Formidable Metal for Car Manufacturing?

In construction, there are many reasons why still is the best choice for many structural and foundational components. It is a strong and formidable material that stands the test of time. The automotive industry uses steel for much the same reasons; it is malleable and is capable of being shaped into forms needed to create different body parts of the vehicle. Steel is also easy to weld together using a variety of techniques. In the car industry, several considerations drive the search for the best material: safety, fuel efficiency, environmentalism, manufacturability, durability, and quality. 

So the industry prefers steel because of that and several other reasons including: 

  • It is abundant 
  • It is relatively cheap compared to other materials
  • It is strong and can therefore take some serious pressure or impact
  • As mentioned above, it is malleable 
  • Very high strength to weight ratio

While we don’t make cars here at Steel Specialities, we do have the region’s best steel fabrication. Our company works with the best techniques of today to ensure quality material for your project. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do for you!