DETROIT - The U.S. steel industry is happy with the new relationship it has established with the U.S. automotive industry, but steelmakers, still looking over their shoulders for competition from plastics and aluminum, are not quite content. Calling 1995 a ``watershed'' year for steel, representatives of the American Iron and Steel Institute said at a news conference Feb. 26 they are looking to improve their products and present more choices to the auto industry as ways to distance themselves from competing materials.
AISI members said they plan to continue on the course set in 1995 to develop new products that will make steel a moving target for competing materials.
Last year the U.S. auto industry announced plans to develop an ultralight car with steel. AISI believes the steel industry can reduce car weight by 40-50 percent using existing technologies. The industry also pointed to stamping-plant rejection rates that are now down to 0.5 percent, from 8 percent 10 years ago.
The news conference was held during the Society of Automotive Engineers' 1996 International Congress and Exposition at Detroit's Cobo Hall.
According to a triennial Delphi survey of the automotive industry by the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation, steel will remain the primary material for automotive bodies for 6-8 years. Douglas Tyger, manager of applications engineering for AK Steel Corp. of Troy, Mich., cited the Delphi study, and said he believes steel will continue to be the lowest-cost material for automotive body panels.
Also, adopting a stance espous-ed by plastics industry development engineers, Tyger said the steel industry now is asking automotive designers to consider car material choices as a whole, rather than on a part-by-part basis.
While acknowledging that a full-scale program to promote plastic body panels seems to have been suspended, M.S. Nelson Jr., president and chief executive officer of Inland Steel Co. of Gary, Ind., said he does not expect steelmakers to become complacent. Nelson, AISI president, was the lead speaker at the news conference.
``It would be a mistake not to consider that those brilliant people [in the plastics industry] won't come up with a solution for their recyclability problems,'' Nelson said.
He said he sees roles for composites in such uses as military vehicles, ``but not for the family sedan.''
Also, Nelson said he believes the automotive industry will move toward optimizing the uses of a number of materials, including plastics, aluminum, magnesium and steel, to gain the best advantages of each.
Although he acknowledged that many new partnerships are forming in the auto industry, Nelson said he does not expect that steelmakers will team with aluminum or plastic resin producers in the near future.
David Cole, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Trans-portation, said a partnership between such competitors - even if it were styled after partnerships that brought Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. together - might be considered by some ``an unnatural act.''