Aluminum is gaining momentum. There’s no two ways about it. The most obvious sign is the probably the amount of mainstream attention the Ford F-150 has gotten since its unveiling (the second most-obvious sign is the volume of car-related posts on this blog). The steel industry used to be the main force behind automotive manufacturing, and with aluminum being recognized for both its strength and mass properties, the balance of power is shifting. From the New York Times:

The shift to aluminum is gaining momentum. Automakers are under increasing pressure to meet strict new fuel-economy standards by 2025, and their use of lighter aluminum is expected to double between 2008 and 2025, according to Ducker Worldwide, a research firm in Troy, Mich.

As a result, Severstal sees little choice but to move toward making advanced — and lighter — high-strength steel.

This year, it plans to make half a million tons more in its Dearborn facility than last year’s run of 2.1 million tons. Part of that demand will come from the F-150, whose frame has increased its use of high-strength steel from 23 percent to 77 percent, a change that will save up to 60 pounds, according to Ford.

“The F-150 is a big turning point,” said Andrew Lane, a metals analyst with Morningstar. “It’s a bold effort by Ford.”

Other steel makers are changing their ways, too. United States Steel has invested $400 million in a joint venture with Kobe Steel of Japan to make advanced high-strength steel in a Leipsic, Ohio, factory expected to produce 500,000 tons annually.

The consideration by carmakers of using more aluminum is actually opening up opportunities for producers of advanced steel, according to Jody Shaw, manager of automotive technical marketing at U.S. Steel.

“It’s those little changes that they’re willing to accept that’s creating an opportunity,” Mr. Shaw said.

While we’re obviously happy that aluminum is getting greater usage and recognition in the auto industry, the truth of the matter is that this will drive innovation in the steel industry – and the more industries innovate and reinvent themselves, the more the consumer wins.