North American Steel Fabricates the Future with $22 Million UltraLight Auto Body

DETROIT, MI, March 4, 1998 -The steel industry is about to bring solid proof to its customers and to the nation that a steel automobile body can be made lighter and stronger, yet cost less than today’s auto bodies.

Steel representatives will begin meeting in the weeks following with automotive engineers and designers to demonstrate the technology behind the UltraLight Steel Auto Body (ULSAB).

Automakers will see, feel and hear details about a steel body structure that is fabricated, tested and proven to be lighter, stiffer, and could be less expensive to produce than not only the best of today’s bodies, but also the best of what’s likely to exist on the near horizon.

Light Weight, High Performance, Low Cost

The ULSAB structure weighs merely 203 kg (447 lbs.), up to 36 percent less than the nine mid-size sedans benchmarked in the concept phase of the study. Torsion and bending tests of the structure showed dramatic improvements over benchmark of 80 percent and 52 percent, respectively, and first body structure mode indicates a 58 percent improvement. Computer modeling also shows ULSAB satisfies mandated crash requirements, even at speeds exceeding some of the requirements.

In addition to reduced weight and superior performance, ULSAB would cost no more to build than typical auto body structures in its class and can even yield potential cost savings, according to economic analysis.

Begun in 1994, the ULSAB initiative was funded by a consortium of 35 of the world’s largest steel producers, including 11 from North America. It set out to show both theoretically and physically that a steel body in a family sedan could meet or exceed a wide variety of exacting performance and cost targets while maintaining the highest standards of safety.

Importantly, the resulting ULSAB body structure also shows great promise for meeting the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) goal for a fuel-stingy, affordable family sedan for early in the next millenium.

In a companion initiative to ULSAB, North American steel companies last year revealed their Light Truck Structure (LTS) study, similar to the design approach used in ULSAB. Aimed at light trucks and sport utility vehicles, LTS resulted in reduced weight, improved performance and safety and showed potential manufacturing efficiencies and cost reductions in the bargain.

Steel – A Material of the Future

"Steel is the dominant material in auto and truck bodies today," said Robert J. Darnall, 1998 chairman of American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). "And steel will continue to be used in bodies of the future because of its strength, ease of manufacture, recyclability and relatively low cost." Darnall also is chairman, president and CEO of Ispat Inland Inc.

"With ULSAB, we demonstrate that the steel industry can and will help its automotive partners meet the fuel economy, safety and environmental challenges that loom into the next century. We challenge the paradigm that says that a stiffer, stronger structure must be heavier," Darnall said. "Our objective now is to help transfer the ULSAB technology to our customers and help them put it in place on real world cars."

Design, Materials, Manufacturing

The ULSAB designers had some advantage over their counterparts in auto company design studios.

"We were able to begin with a clean sheet of paper and use a holistic design approach – a fresh, optimized look at the entire vehicle," said Darryl C. Martin, director, Automotive Applications, AISI. "Even so, having to work with some typical carryover constraints likely would not prevent a designer from putting to work concepts derived from ULSAB right now, since none of the technology employed is beyond current capabilities."

About 90 percent of the steel used is high-strength or ultra-high-strength steel, and about half of the mass is in tailor-welded blanks. Several key structural components were made with hydroforming processes and two important non-structural parts comprise very light weight steel sandwich material.

"Some of the grades and thicknesses of steel used in ULSAB are not commonly used in auto bodies today, but all are available," Martin said. "All of the ULSAB steels are recyclable. Steel is the most recycled material."

ULSAB was manufactured and assembled using current techniques and practices including maintaining tolerances and quality standards equivalent for high volume production. "We used no manual forming because we wanted to demonstrate clearly that you can make ULSAB right now," Martin said. ULSAB employs about one-third fewer spot welds and significantly more laser welding that a conventional body structure.

The ULSAB crash performance – simulated on a computer much like automakers worldwide do today – showed it would pass the NCAP 35 mph frontal test and a number of other tests whose speeds exceed today’s mandated safety requirements in the U.S. and Europe.

Porsche Engineering Services, a North American Unit of Porsche AG with facilities in Troy, Mich., and Germany, did engineering work on ULSAB. Various automotive vendors supplied components for the body structure being demonstrated to automakers. The Automotive Applications Committee of American Iron and Steel Institute represents the North American steelmakers involved with the study.

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 significant to its success. This industry cooperation resulted in the formation of the Auto/Steel Partnership, a consortium of DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors and the member companies of the AAC.

American Iron and Steel Institute/
Automotive Applications Committee:

American Iron and Steel Institute/
Automotive Applications Committee:
AK Steel Corporation
Acme Steel Company
Bethlehem Steel Corporation
Dofasco Inc.
Ispat Inland Inc.
National Steel Corporation
Rouge Steel Company
Stelco Inc.
United States Steel Corporation
WCI Steel, Inc.
Weirton Steel Corporation