Even though GM and Chrysler have paid off their auto-bailout loans, they are still under the thumb of Uncle Sam; elements of Obama’s Climate Action Plan do not only extend towards power plants, but automakers as well. According to the Climate Action Plan, car companies’ products have to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. This, however, requires huge design changes that are going to be a big blow to profit margins.
America’s best-selling vehicle, the Ford F150, is getting a complete redesign. from the inside out. It will be the first truck and large-volume vehicle to have an all-aluminum body, which will lower its weight and increase its fuel efficiency. Obama’s Climate Action Plan requires full-size trucks to have a better fuel efficiency, up to 30 mpg from the current 20 mpg.
Switching to aluminum, though better for the environment, is an expensive move. As we reported last month, converting to aluminum means higher material costs and new manufacturing machinery. While the price tag is high, Ford can’t fight the new regulations, and is instead doing all it can to effectively market the innovation behind its newly redesigned products, the F150 and Mustang—the latter redesign offers a never-before-seen turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Each sale of the redesigned F150 contributes an additional $10,000 to Ford’s bottom line.
GM, on the other hand, is creating a whole new midsize truck to meet Obama’s requirements, which they believe will be less costly. Chrysler, instead, is spending more on nine-speed transmissions and diesel engines.
Obama had hoped that the market for electric cars would increase; as a bid in that direction, an element of the Climate Action Plan allows automakers to acquire mpg credits for manufacturing zero-emission vehicles. However, the demand for electric vehicles is still low, proving that that kind of car is still a niche product. Pricing for electric cars start at $40,000 and only increase from there.
While it is always painful to have a winner and loser, the “materials selection war” (steel vs. aluminum) is a long-term societal consideration and climate change mitigation, where aluminum is the ultimate winner. These trends will force America to increase the recycling of post-consumer aluminum products—as opposed to landfill and scrap export—and to also increase the design and manufacturing of recycle-friendly alloys.
There is simply not enough expensive and energy-intensive primary aluminum capacity available to meet higher aluminum demand of 100 million, and growing, cars per year.
Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
February 12, 2014
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