Rio Tinto’s Dickson Addresses Auto Industry’s Bourgeoning Use of Aluminium

Rio Tinto’s Dickson Addresses Auto Industry’s Bourgeoning Use of Aluminium

Jim Dickson, Rio Tinto’s Director of Global Automotive Strategy, spoke with Collision Magazine about the automotive industry’s shift to aluminium. His comments come as a prelude to an address he was invited to give to the Canadian Collision Industry Forum (CCIF) Cars & Technology Showcase next weekend.

Aluminium is a hot topic in the automotive industry as Ford’s F-150 and Cadillac’s CTS (among others) have shifted to using a significantly higher percentage of aluminium in the next couple of model years.

“Over the next five to seven years, we think this is going to be significant. We’re confident we are going to see a larger shift to aluminium in the use of automotive bodies,” explains Dickson. “Shop owners have expressed concern about this shift. They worry about costs around clean rooms and the difficulty of working with the metal.

“We’ll be there to present a message that I hope will allay or reduce some of the concerns about aluminium, that while it is different, it is not more difficult. That is the message: It’s different, but not more difficult. We’re going to explain why that’s the case,” he goes on. “Why are we using more aluminium in the automotive industry? Where is the value proposition? What I think is appropriate to say, is that I think we’re entering a completely new era in terms of automotive technology. There is a revolution in car technology happening today. Part of this is the new CAFE standards that are driving a shift toward lighter-weight vehicles. Aluminium is not the only tool to achieve a lighter-weight car. Aluminium is part of a menu of change to reduce weight. But there are concerns about CO2 emissions, and this is part of the effort to respond to those concerns,” he says.

“This has been an ongoing quiet revolution,” Dickson continues. “Back in the ’80s, we started to see aluminium wheels. Before that you had copper radiators. When is the last time you saw one of those? Radiators are an aluminium alloy now. Aluminium has been used in the automotive industry for fifty years. It’s interesting at see how aluminium has been offering its unique proposition in the auto industry over such a long period of time.”

Dickson also addressed the wide variety of different aluminium alloys on the market today, many of which are new to the automotive industry. He also spoke about the corrosion-resistant properties of some alloys of aluminium.

“Automotive grade aluminium is naturally corrosion resistant. Which is a real strength. You just don’t see it rust out like steel does. That’s because aluminium produces a natural oxide layer on the outside that no longer reacts with air. That’s one of the key differentials. But there are some forms of corrosion that can happen, and we’ll talking about some of the issues around corrosion that are specific to aluminium. We think there is some information that collision repair industry people need to be aware of. What do collision repair experts need to know about corrosion when you go to repair aluminium? This is going to be important part of the conversation,” he explains. “In the future autos are going to be multi-material. So we have to ask, how does aluminium react with steel? What happens when you bond these materials? These are the issues that are going to be affecting the repair industry in the years to come. There are certain standards with respect to aluminium that you have to be aware of. But again, it’s just different, not difficult.”

“The aluminium transpiration group at that organization has done a lot of research on aluminium dust … how does that affect repairs? Clearly, the F-150 set a new benchmark. That is a history-making change in vehicles in North America. Other automotive architectures, Jaguar for instance, those architectures have been using aluminium for a long time. But now the auto makers are faced with these new regulations. Power trains are going to have to get lighter. Clearly, we think this shift is going to be significant. We’ll talk about what we see as being a transformative event,” Dickson concludes.