Aluminum’s Grip on Wheel Market Softens as Styled Steel Wheels Increase OEM Profits

Integrated Trim Technology Appeals to Consumers

Detroit, MI, March 18, 2005 -- The rally cry today among wheel manufacturers, “if aluminum can do it, steel can do it better,” must be effective because OEMs are increasing their use of highly styled steel wheels. The applications range across the board from structurally efficient wheels for small compact vehicles to large diameter wheels for SUVs or light-trucks. And not just for the simply styled base wheel package on an economy car but also for the high-value highly styled option packages available for top-of-the-line models.

According to Scott Murray, director, Cladding Development, McKechnie Vehicle Components, “Steel wheel makers offer any and all styles automakers might need. It can be an economical wheel styled with a permanent center cap and trim ring, or a complete wheel cover. Or it might be a high-value extremely attractive wheel for a vehicle option package, such as one of the popular spoked steel wheels designs with integrated trim, and if weight is a problem, we have the answer for that too.

“The real advantage to steel,” says Murray, “comes with using a steel wheel design as a base unit and changing the style according to the needs of the design studio. For cost-conscious OEMs who are keeping a watchful eye on profit margins, there is great appeal to a reusable design in a low-cost steel base wheel. Designs are being pushed that better disguise the true nature of the ‘backbone’ wheel. Techniques for sharper radii, deeper draws and the use of urethane filler allow the wrapping of spokes.

“Improvements in steel wheels, such as strength, weight, size, the ability to accept a wide variety of integrated trim designs, and the concept of a low cost steel base wheel applied to many platforms, are challenging the use of aluminum wheels for many applications.” says Murray.

According to Frank Schwartz, director of sales and marketing for Lacks Wheel Trim Systems, “With all the new styling technologies available today, consumers can have all the benefits of a steel wheel with the appearance of an aluminum wheel. The new styling on steel wheels has the same appeal to consumers who are willing to pay as much for styled steel as styled aluminum wheels. The bottom line is an increase in profit of up to $100 per vehicle for automakers who use styled steel wheels with integrated trim instead of aluminum.”

In past years, OEM wheel designers have shown a preference for aluminum and the ability to cast sharp-looking aluminum wheels in many different styles. Styled wheels are big-dollar items in the trim packages for new cars.

Recently, wheel makers and their designers have opened up many new styling strategies for steel wheels, including the now popular large vent windows that give a spoked wheel appearance, significantly enhancing the competitive strength of steel vs. aluminum in the wheel market. Steel is replacing aluminum for the big-dollar optional trim packages.

Car buyers like the integrated trim, and their perception of steel is that it is much safer than aluminum. Automakers like the reusable base steel wheel concept because it lowers their investment. The net result is a resurgence of steel wheels among most automakers.

OEMs are finding the new styling of steel wheels to be on a par with styled aluminum. Recently, several techniques have been developed for styling steel wheels: Center caps and/or trim rings or full wheel covers can be permanently attached to a steel wheel. Then there is a semi-styled steel wheel, as illustrated in Figure 1, and a full-faced steel wheel as shown in Figure 2.

New to the market are integrated trim systems such as Urethane Filled Clad or proprietary systems like McKechnie Vehicles’s DuraClad® (Figure 3) and PlastiClad® (Figure 4) and Lack’s Chromtec® (Figure 5) and Styletec®. Integrated trim is a high-quality, cost-effective alternative to aluminum wheels that can be created by either injected urethane or bonded clads, chrome plating type finishes, or by painted cladding. Many millions of united of integrated trim systems are on the road today, proving their acceptance and durability.

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Figure 1
A semi-styled steel wheel

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Figure 2
A full-face steel whee

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Figure 3
DuraClad ® steel wheel

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Figure 4
A PlastiClad ® urethane filled
clad steel wheel

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Figure 5
Chromtec® steel wheel

 

Integral trim technologies are or have been featured on many vehicles with steel wheels including:

  • Dodge Ram 1500, 2500
  • Dodge Ram Van
  • Ford F-150, F-250, F-350
  • Ford Ranger
  • Ford Exporer
  • Ford Expedition
  • General Motors Silverado
  • General Motors Astro-Van
  • Lincoln Navigator
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Toyota Paseo
  • Toyota Tacoms
  • Toyota Tercel
  • Mercury Sable
  • Lincoln Town Car Limited Edition

Contributing to the resurgence of steel wheels is the availability of larger wheels created through the deeper draw capabilities of the new high-strength steels. Figure 6 shows three additional examples of the new styling flexibility for steel wheels.

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Figure 6
Three additional steel wheels illustrating the styling flexibility.

The Automotive Applications Committee (AAC) is a subcommittee of the Market Development Committee of AISI and focuses on advancing the use of steel in the highly competitive automotive market. With offices and staff located in Detroit, cooperation between the automobile and steel industries has been key to its success. This industry cooperation resulted in the formation of the Auto/Steel Partnership, a consortium of DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation and the member companies of the AAC. For more news or information, view the American Iron and Steel Institute /Automotive Applications Committee's website at www.autosteel.org.

Wheels Task Force member companies:
Accuride Corporation
ArvinMeritor Wheels Division
CMC/CLA
DaimlerChrysler Corporation
Ford Motor Company
General Motors Corporation
Hayes Lemmerz International
Hess Engineering, Inc.
Lacks Wheel Trim Division
McKechnie Vehicle Components
PPG Industries Inc.
TOPY Corporation

American Iron and Steel Institute/
Automotive Applications Committee:
AK Steel Corporation
Dofasco Inc.
Mittal Steel Company
Nucor Corporation
Severstal North America Inc.
United States Steel Corporation