The auto industry’s gradual transition from steel to aluminum continues, as Toyota becomes the next global automaker to add aluminum to a high-volume vehicle.
The U.S.-built Camry, which also happens to be the country’s best-selling car, is slated to get an aluminum hood in 2018, according to a source familiar with the plans.
“It’s no secret that the entire industry is aggressively pursuing aluminum,” says Monte Kaehr, chief engineer for the 2015 Camry.
Toyota does not have any comment on specific plans for the Camry, but it does say that it plans to use more aluminum across its lineup.
“Toyota has plans to use aluminum on future vehicles for hood, closures and parts for lightweighting,” said spokeswoman Jana Hartline. “Also, we will increase usage of mix metals and resin materials to enhance lightweighting efforts.”
Ford has announced plans to produce its F-150 pickup with aluminum body panels instead of steel. This move will shave 700 pounds from the truck and boost fuel economy by an average of seven miles per gallon.
The switch to aluminum will result in a lighter vehicle that is still just as sturdy. Aluminum is a rigid material that allows automakers to build a lighter vehicle that will save on gas mileage. With gas prices on the rise, this is a major concern, particularly for heavier trucks and SUVs.
Toyota’s venture into aluminum shows that the trend toward lightweighting to meet corporate average fuel economy regulations isn’t limited to heavier trucks and SUVs, said Andrew Lane, a metals analyst with Morningstar.
The Camry has been the top-selling car in America for the last 12 years, and while Toyota has incorporated aluminum into some of their vehicles, this will be the first sedan produced on a large-scale basis to switch to aluminum.
The auto industry is not the only industry to find the value in aluminum’s combination of strength and lightness. According to the Aluminum Association, aluminum is widely used in building and construction, packaging, and recreation and sporting goods, because it’s so lightweight.
Aluminum’s biggest market has always been the automotive industry, and that market seems to be growing.
The retooled F-150 goes on sale this year, and many automakers are likely waiting to see how that rollout proceeds before making any further decision about the use of aluminum.