A new national study, conducted by Lab42, and commissioned by the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI), finds Americans in the market for a new vehicle continue to trust and prefer steel as the automotive material of choice.

Additionally, a second study conducted by Ducker Worldwide shows the steel industry has made monumental strides in developing new, advanced grades of steel and making them commercially available. Current and potential consumers view steel as critical to key vehicle attributes such as safety, strength and durability and favor steel vehicles over brands relying on aluminum.

The study conducted by Lab421, a quantitative market research firm, found automakers substituting aluminum for steel face a skeptical audience when it comes to the three-quarters of respondents who consider safety the most important criteria when buying or leasing a vehicle. Overwhelming majorities of consumers do not believe aluminum is as durable (87 percent), strong (90 percent) or safe (91 percent) as steel.

As a result, consumers still strongly prefer key components of a vehicle, such as the frame, doors, bed, fender and bumpers, to be made of steel. More than 50 percent of all consumers perceive steel as the most important material in a vehicle’s frame or body structure.

When it comes to brand equity and consumer preference, more than half of consumers surveyed say replacing steel with aluminum will negatively impact their opinion of an automotive brand. In total, 43 percent of those surveyed said they are less likely to purchase or lease from an automaker replacing steel with aluminum in its vehicles.

When consumers are made aware of advanced high-strength steel (AHSS), it is strongly favored over aluminum for all vehicle parts. These preferences are most pronounced among current and potential truck owners. A steel frame and body are considered important by 43 percent of truck owners, ranking ahead of attributes such as accessory options and towing capacity. Among current and future truck, SUV and sedan owners, steel is considered extremely important to one-third and one-fourth respectively.

Ducker Worldwide, an industry market research firm, reports an increase of AHSS and ultra high-strength steel (UHSS) use in trucks and SUVs2 as part of an industry-wide trend projected to grow through at least the 2024 model year. By that time, UHSS use is expected to exceed AHSS use as automakers take broad advantage of its capabilities to meet both regulatory requirements and consumer demand.

Steel’s lightweighting benefits have allowed automakers to invest in safety technologies, powertrain performance, infotainment systems and other content desired by consumers while reducing overall vehicle weight. That trend is continuing to pay dividends for automakers balancing lightweighting with consumer preferences, with an additional 10 pounds per vehicle in steel weight savings from upgrades to AHSS/UHSS predicted by the 2020 model year.

“These findings confirm what most automakers already know, which is consumers continue to understand and value the role steel plays in making their vehicles safe, strong, durable and fuel-efficient,” said Jody Hall, vice president, automotive market for SMDI. “This elevates opportunities for automakers to attract consumers by showing how they are setting themselves apart on key vehicle purchase decisions through innovative applications of advanced high-strength steel.”

These opportunities exist because AHSS and UHSS are significant contributors to more than half of the top attributes factoring into consumers’ automotive decisions, including safety, price, interior roominess, physical design, vehicle test results and fuel efficiency.

As the consumer study makes clear, steel’s contribution to vehicle safety is widely valued. AHSS and UHSS give automakers exceptional high-strength grades to efficiently design strong, rigid passenger compartments not only to prevent intrusion, but also to contribute to avoiding accidents altogether by minimizing blind spots. Efficient passenger compartment designs based on AHSS and UHSS allow for roomier interiors, another key selling point for consumers. Steel’s formability – especially when compared to aluminum alloys – allows designers more options for physical exterior design for increased curb appeal.

Steel also reduces vehicle costs, as steel-intensive body structures and closures offer the most cost-effective solutions to automakers, creating savings consumers can see in the sticker price. Steel’s high strength enhances lightweighting applications, leading to fuel economy improvements and saving consumers money at the pump over the lifetime of their vehicle.

“With approximately 258 pounds per vehicle in 2018, AHSS is surpassing growth estimates made in 2013 by approximately four pounds per vehicle. Automakers have found replacing flat-rolled steel with more advanced grades of high-strength steel helps them meet lightweighting targets without disappointing consumers with the compromises required by aluminum and other alternative materials,” said Hall. “Advanced high-strength steel’s role in new and future vehicles is growing faster than expected and next-generation ultra high-strength steels are following close behind.”

AISI serves as the voice of the North American steel industry in the public policy arena and advances the case for steel in the marketplace as the preferred material of choice. AISI also plays a lead role in the development and application of new steels and steelmaking technology. AISI is comprised of 21 member companies, including integrated and electric furnace steelmakers, and approximately 120 associate members who are suppliers to or customers of the steel industry. 

Steel Market Development Institute, a business unit of AISI, increases and defends the use of steel by developing innovative materials, applications and value-added solutions for customers in the automotive, construction and packaging markets. SMDI automotive investors include: AK Steel Corporation, Algoma, ArcelorMittal and Nucor Corporation. For more information on SMDI, visit www.autosteel.org or follow @SMDISteel on Twitter.

1 The quantitative study was based on an online survey of 4,361 adults across the United States in April 2018.

2 2018 North American Automotive Steel Content Market Study, Ducker Worldwide, June 6, 2018

SOURCE Steel Market Development Institute