Steel: Still the dominant material for manufacturing the car body-in-white

In preparation for our 2nd International Conference on Automotive Steels, IQ editor Will Hornick spoke with Jean-Francois Beaudoin, USMT Leader and Expert for Metal Flat Products at Renault SAS. Our conversation focused on areas of innovation for steel as well as its competitive ability for the short and medium term as other lightweight materials begin to gain traction and attention.

Full Interview PDF

"…I speak for Renault maybe not for other car manufacturers, most of the body-in-white is made of steel. So for me, the new material at Renault is steel; not other light metals."

Automotive IQ: What is your background and your role at Renault?

Jean-Francois Beaudoin: Renault is my first company. Just after my education, I joined Renault 22 years ago now…only one company and I think it will be only one. I have always had a position in material engineering, mainly in metallic materials and also in organic materials for painting.

Automotive IQ: So you work mainly with steel, I take it?

J-F.B.: Yes. Mainly with steel but also a little bit on other metallic materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, magnesium and so on.

Automotive IQ: Good. We will cover both areas then. What challenges are the steel industry currently struggling with, in your opinion?

J-F.B.: I think first of all the competition with other materials, such as light metallic materials and also organic materials. But this battle is not very new. As far as I remember, I have already got information, for example, that light metal are new materials but after many years the share, and I speak for Renault maybe not for other car manufacturers, most of the body-in-white is made of steel. So for me, the new material at Renault is steel; not other light metals.

Automotive IQ: What new steel technologies, in terms of lightweight and safety, should we pay attention to in the short and medium term for new innovations in steel?

J-F.B.: Hot press forming. This is not really new but to increase the share of this material is quite new and we think that the target of material share in body-in-white is around 20 to 25%. We still have a lot of work to do to increase the share to this level.

Automotive IQ: Would you mind elaborating a little bit on the term body-in-white? I understand you will be presenting about the body-in-white at our Steel Conference.

J-F.B.: It will mainly focus on the body-in-white. Body-in-white means all the vehicle structure, the under body, the upper body and closure panels.

Automotive IQ: Thank you. How will Renault, and car manufacturers in general, make use of this new hot press technology?

J-F.B.: First of all, because now we design cars for global production, we have to be sure that this technology is available worldwide. This is one of the first concerns. Secondly, we need to increase the application of this technology and to be sure that the reliability of the car is not affected because when we increase the mechanical properties of the material we can face some strange behavior so we have to increase the share of this material because it is very weight-effective but we have to be sure that the function of the part is not affected.

Automotive IQ: In your opinion, you mentioned that you thought steel would remain as the dominant material for use in the vehicle body; do you see composite materials or lightweight aluminums ever taking over in this regard?

J-F.B.: Yes. We think and we forecast in the mid-term future that steel will no longer be the predominant material in the body-in-white and some applications will be light metals, such as aluminum and some organic material will be more relevant in some area of the body-in-white.

Automotive IQ: Why is it that these alternatives have not already taken over for steel?

J-F.B.: I think for two main factors. First is worldwide availability. Steel is available everywhere in the world and also due to the price.

Automotive IQ: Reparability of composites is no longer an issue?

J-F.B.: Yes.

Automotive IQ: What are you hoping to get out of the conference in June?

J-F.B.: To meet some other car manufacturers, to exchange some experience and also I hope to meet some material suppliers.

Automotive IQ: You are looking for new networking contacts?

J-F.B.: Yes.

Automotive IQ: Thank you for the interview

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