The use of base metals in car manufacturing will lean more towards aluminium and less to steel in the long term as car manufacturers attempt to make cars lighter without compromising safety.

The Fortis/VM Group's Materials in Transport publication released today said the gradual increase in the use of aluminium in car manufacturing is set to continue due to the need to make vehicles lighter.

This higher use of aluminium in cars will reverse the upward trend in vehicle weight that has seen an increase of up to 50% over the last 35 years.

European manufactures, leading with aluminium use in cars, have increased the use of the metal in cars from 40kg per vehicle in 1980 to over 130kg per car currently. The investment research paper said there was still much potential to further increase the use of the metal in car components.

Bonnets of vehicles are among the easiest components to replace with aluminium, yet in Europe only 18% of the parts are currently made of the metal and the figure is even lower in the US at 8% and in Asia at 3%.

The publication said zinc coated steel remained the overwhelmingly favourite choice for manufacturing car bodies. However, the declining use of steel in car bodies and other external features will inevitably mean lower use of zinc over the very long term.

Copper, used extensively in electrical wiring, bearings and some radiators, remain a core material in the automotive manufacturing industry. Copper demand from car manufacturers will also increase in the long term with the increase in sales of hybrid and electric cars.  This comes as electrical components in these vehicles use much larger amounts of copper.

Regarding the use of silver metal in cars, Mitsui Mining and Smelting has announced a new technology that allows silver to replace platinum in diesel engine autocatalysts, but the reality is that vehicle manufacturers would be cautious about adopting a new technology, due to the risk of failure and high penalties for breaching emissions regulations. 

The Fortis/VM Group said if this technology was introduced across all diesel engines, it would reduce global platinum demand by 30%, though the impact on global silver demand would be much less at an increase of under 2%.