TRAVERSE CITY, MI – “Is steel dead?” United States Steel executive Bernhard Hoffmann asks about what has been the auto industry’s go-to material for more than a century.

He answers his rhetorical question by quoting from a Car magazine story pondering the future of the metal.

“The day of the passenger car made primarily of steel and iron is on the wane,” the article proclaimed – in 1953.

But steel still is going strong, in more ways than one, says Hoffmann, U.S. Steel’s vice president-engineering and product development for automotive solutions.

It is the auto industry’s material of choice, but others – notably aluminum – are elbowing in.

Hoffmann and Tom Boney of Novelis, an aluminum supplier, make their respective business cases during a session entitled “Manufactured Materials of the Future” at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars here.

A third of its global business is automotive, and Novelis (formerly Alcan) is “aggressively investing” in that segment and seeing “dramatic growth,” says Boney, Novelis North America’s vice president and general manager-automotive value stream.

As an automotive material, aluminum has a friend in federal government mandates that call for the industry to attain an average fleet fuel economy of 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100 km) by 2025.

One way to do that is to use lighter materials, such as aluminum (more expensive than steel) and carbon-fiber composites (more expensive than aluminum).

“Our strategy was that as fuel-economy requirements strengthened, we would pursue (the use of aluminum in vehicles) aggressively,” Boney says. “More vehicles are moving towards multi-material construction to meet consumer demands and regulators’ pressure.

“Aluminum is recognized as a key material deployed by OEMs to meet the 2025 (fuel-economy) objectives. Mass reduction will play a key role.”

But Boney acknowledges reduced weight won’t play the only part in the auto industry’s quest for improved fuel economy, nor will aluminum become the only lightweight material used to help get there.

The current-generation Ford F-150 pickup is the current poster child for aluminum use. Its body and bed are aluminum. The upcoming Ford Super Duty is following suit. Increased use of aluminum also is in the Cadillac CT6 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Audi and Jaguar were among the earliest adopters when it comes to wider use of the material.

“There are going to be a lot more mixed-material solutions,” Boney says.