Steel Wheels: AISI Introduces Lightweight Microalloy Steel Wheels



AISI Introduces Lightweight Microalloy Steel Wheels

Hundreds of millions of cars around the world are fitted with steel wheels: a perennial favorite both with automakers and consumers. But styling options on these wheels have been limited. Until now.

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) Wheels Task Force, a group formed by the AISI Automotive Applications Committee (AAC), has been working since 1996 to develop a steel wheel that optimizes the material's key attributes -- light weight, cost savings and durability - but can also boast styling flexibility.

The project has culminated with the production of the Lightweight Microalloy Steel Wheel, which offers approximately seven pounds of weight savings and roughly $30 in cost savings per vehicle, compared with current-production, mid-sized, cast aluminum wheels.

"In addition to lighter weight and lower cost, these wheels provide attractive styling alternatives," says Chuck Gregoire, chairman of the Wheels Task Force. "The wheels offer styling freedom without structural constraints."

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A Cooperative Effort

The Wheels Task Force developed these lightweight steel wheels with Hayes-Lemmerz International, Inc. of Romulus, Mich., and drew styling concepts from URETECH International Inc. of Luckey, Ohio, and McKechnie Vehicle Components of Troy, Mich.

Together, this consortium has opened up an entire field of opportunities for automotive stylists looking to cut weight and cost from a vehicle, without sacrificing consumer appeal.

Microalloy steels contain small amounts of alloying elements to provide high tensile strength and excellent fatigue resistance. The Microalloy steels used for these wheels exhibit tensile strengths up to 90,000 pounds per square inch. The technology to produce this type of steel is not new, according to Jim Cran, AISI project manager for the Wheels Task Force. Combining microalloy steels with wheel manufacturing techniques results in the lightweight microalloy wheel.

Sound Ideas in Structure

Steel wheels can save automakers weight, reduce cost and provide broad styling opportunities, but there are additional advantages in their post-showroom life too. "Steel wheels are less prone to bending on curb impact. Additionally, its less expensive to mount tires on steel wheels than aluminum wheels," says Cran.

As a result, automakers may find in the long run that they benefit from greater customer satisfaction and lower warranty returns with styled steel wheels. "Let's face it, who wants to replace an aluminum wheel just because of a minor curb impact?" says Cran.

Room to Grow for Steel

Steel still holds the majority of the entire wheel market in North America, but there certainly is room for improvement. In 1997, steel held approximately 55 percent of the total market: 60 percent on passenger cars and 40 percent on light trucks. Increased aluminum wheel growth is the result of perceived mandates, styling benefits and marketing incentives offered by OEMs.

And in this booming market where customers are clamoring for sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks, automakers can afford the premium cost of aluminum wheels for these platforms.

But at the same time, the weight on these vehicles is always a central concern. And vehicles that boast off-road durability could benefit from the added strength of steel wheels. Combine that with the newest styling techniques, and automotive marketing teams might just have a new selling point in the showrooms.

Hitting the Road

AISI is currently seeking opportunities to meet with automakers to present the finished product and tell the story of the Lightweight Microalloy Steel Wheel.

"Our message to automakers is that steel is now an option for styled wheels," says Cran.