Advanced High-Strength Steels Will Enable Automakers to Meet Tough New Vehicle Emissions Standards

New EPA rulemaking also requests comments on life cycle assessment for vehicle emissions

Washington, D.C. – Automakers’ use of advanced high-strength steels (AHSS) reveal it is the fastest growing automotive lightweighting material, according to a recent study conducted by Ducker Worldwide on behalf of the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI), a business unit of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).  These new steels will be the key for automakers as they look to meet tough new emissions standards, while also meeting safety criteria that steel best addresses, and at a cost that consumers can afford.  The global steel industry’s innovative FutureSteelVehicle (FSV) program projects a steel body structure solution that is 35 percent lighter than benchmarked vehicles, on par with aluminum body structures available today, but with the strength and affordability of steel.

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a proposed rulemaking to set stringent fuel and emissions requirements for model years 2017 to 2025.   Further, the new proposed rule signaled EPA’s interest in examining the entire lifecycle of a vehicle, including the environmental costs of initial production and ultimate end-of-life recycling.  According to the rulemaking, the EPA seeks comment on studies and research regarding “the fuller range of health and environmental impacts of light duty vehicles” and on “life cycle impacts of future advanced technologies.”  Steel’s advantage as the material of choice becomes even greater when the full life cycle of a vehicle is analyzed.

The recent study conducted by Ducker Worldwide found that AHSS presently account for approximately 175 pounds per vehicle, are projected to double by 2020, and nearly triple to 500 pounds per vehicle once the 54.5 mpg standard proposed in the rule is finalized. 

“Like all steels, advanced high-strength steels are precisely made to exacting customer specifications.  These are a newer generation of steels that possess extremely high strength and other advantageous properties, while maintaining the high formability required for manufacturing,” Thomas J. Gibson, AISI president and CEO, said. “The new grades provide lightweight automotive solutions that are affordable and deliver unmatched safety for automotive manufacturers and consumers.  As has happened since the mid-1990s, steel is replaced in automotive design by newly developed materials for lightweighting…which happen to be a new generation of steels.” Gibson said. 

In May 2011, the global steel industry released the results of a three-year engineering project to develop fully engineered, steel-intensive designs for electrified vehicles that include reduced greenhouse gas emissions over their entire life cycle. The FSV program includes more than 20 new AHSS grades that are expected to be commercially available in 2015 to 2020, 47 percent of which are GigaPascal steels—steels with strength levels in excess of 1,000 MegaPascals. 

“Steel’s advantages as the material of choice are even greater when the entire vehicle lifecycle is considered.  We commend EPA for further investigating the life cycle impacts of future vehicles,” Gibson said.  “We are actively assisting automakers with new fuel economy and emissions standards by developing these new and lighter-weight AHSS technologies that help increase fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In fact, EPA’s request for comment on life cycle impacts reflects the growing importance of considering manufacturing emissions, as vehicle powertrains become more efficient and tailpipe emissions decrease.”

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an established method of accounting for total greenhouse gas emissions associated with products like automobiles and determines the carbon footprint of products. According to Gibson, LCA demonstrates steel’s contribution to lower vehicle emissions through the use of highly energy-efficient AHSS coupled with steel’s full recyclability at the end of the vehicle’s life.

“We believe it is crucial for automakers to consider the total carbon footprint of vehicles during their design,” Gibson said. “While reducing tailpipe emissions is important, if these improvements are made without regard to the carbon consequences of manufacturing vehicles or retiring them from service, it is possible auto designs could reflect poor environmental choices when it comes to the materials used to build cars and trucks.  EPA is asking the right questions and we’re pleased to work with the agency to provide the answers,” Gibson said.

Gibson said it is the commitment to technological advancement that enables the steel industry to continue to respond to the increasing demands of automakers. “As car companies gear up for more stringent fuel economy and emissions regulations, it is more important than ever for the steel industry to continue advancing lightweight steel technology. Because the manufacturing of steel emits only one-twentieth to one-fifth the greenhouse gases resulting from making alternative materials and because steel is continually recycled, steel solutions provide the auto designer the most direct path to putting the lowest emitting vehicles on the road.”   

AISI serves as the voice of the North American steel industry in the public policy arena and advances the case for steel in the marketplace as the preferred material of choice.  AISI also plays a lead role in the development and application of new steels and steelmaking technology.  AISI is comprised of 25 member companies, including integrated and electric furnace steelmakers, and 120 associate and affiliate members who are suppliers to or customers of the steel industry.  AISI's member companies represent approximately 80 percent of both U.S. and North American steel capacity.  For more news about steel and its applications, view AISI’s Web site at


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