There's a logical progression of technology in the auto industry. We've seen it with things like carbon-ceramic brakes, which use to be the sole domain of six-figure sports cars, where they often cost as much as an entry level Toyota Corolla. Now, you can get them on a BMW M3 (they're still pricey, at $8,150). Who knows, maybe in the next four a five years, they'll be available on something like a muscle car or hot hatchback. Aluminum has had a similar progression, although it's further along, moving from the realm of Audi and Jaguar luxury sedans to Ford's most important product, the F-150.
With the stuff set to arrive in such a big way on the market, we should logically expect an all-aluminum Toyota Camry or Honda Accord soon, right? Um, wrong. Reuters has a great report on what's keeping Asian manufacturers away from aluminum, and it demonstrates yet another stark philosophical difference between automakers in the east and those in the west.
Of course, there's a pricing argument at play. But it's more than just the cost of aluminum sheet (shown above) versus steel. Manufacturing an aluminum car requires extensive retooling of existing factories, not to mention new relationships with suppliers and other logistical and financial nightmares. Factor that in with what Reuters calls Asian automaker's preference towards "evolutionary upgrades," and the case for an all-aluminum Accord is a difficult one.
Instead, manufacturers in the east are focusing on developing even stronger steel as a means of trimming fat, although analysts question how long that practice can continue.
Jeff Wang, the automotive sales director for aluminum supplier Novelis, predicts that we'll see a bump in aluminum usage from Japanese and Korean brands in the next two to three years, and that it will be driven by an influx of aluminum-based vehicles from western automakers into China. Only time will tell if he's proven right.