Toyota is playing catch-up with incorporating aluminum into its more popular vehicles, unlike rivals Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. The three North American automakers have wholly embraced the material, starting with hoods and panels in pickups and big SUVs, and spreading through — in the case of Chrysler — about 80 percent of its lineup.
While Toyota does offer aluminum hoods and body pieces on more niche products like its Prius family, Scion FR-S and Lexus sedans — all built in Japan — it appears that the best-selling Camry will sport one starting in 2018. Toyota is working on finalizing plans on a joint-venture with Kobe Steel to create more aluminum sheet at a location somewhere in Alabama.
Why Alabama? Firstly, it’s closer to Toyota’s Camry assembly plants in Kentucky than sourcing from Japan. And secondly, because Wise Alloys in Muscle Shoals has agreed to provide the raw “master coils” needed to produce what estimates say is around 100,000 tons of aluminum sheet capacity in order to satisfy Toyota’s potential demand. And any overproduction could potentially be sourced to other auto manufacturers to avoid slowdowns or closures.
SEE ALSO: Steelmaker Says F-150 Doesn’t Need Aluminum To Save Weight“Toyota has plans to use aluminum on future vehicles for hood, closers and parts for lightweighting,” spokeswoman Jana Hartline told Automotive News. “Also, we will increase usage of mix metals and resin materials to enhance lightweighting efforts.”
While not confirming any rumors about aluminum integration into the future products, Monte Kaehr, the chief engineer for the heavily-revised 2015 Camry, did say, “It’s no secret that the entire industry is aggressively pursuing aluminum.”
Andrew Lane, a metals analyst with Morningstar told AN that a move to aluminum “ultimately makes sense, given that CAFE regulations apply across the entire fleet and the Camry comprises such a large portion of Toyota’s fleet, meaning that the impact to fleetwide fuel efficiency will be substantial.”