DETROIT - The magnesium industry needs to do much more joint research on cutting costs if it wants to keep growing rapidly in the auto parts business, a top Fiat executive said.
Magnesium raw material producers and die casters should study the entire production process to improve the finished product and reduce costs, said Renzo Porro, director of platform development at Fiat Auto. Everything from basic metals production to recycling of old parts must be studied.
But the magnesium industry is not interested in such research.
Stephen Erickson, development leader for magnesium metals at Dow Chemical Co., said the industry has staged a 'general revolt' on investments in research that could be used by competitors. Previous efforts along those lines had not been a success, he said.
Automakers are increasing their consumption of magnesium at current costs, and metal producers expressed confidence that the rapid increase would continue for at least the next four to five years.
'We are very confident of growth through model year 2002,' said Darryl Albright, director of market development in the Americas for Hydro Magnesium.
The global market for magnesium castings should grow from about 60,000 tonnes this year to about 100,000 tonnes in 2000, he said. About 90 percent of the castings are used in the automotive industry.
Production of magnesium die-cast parts increased 32 percent last year, according to the International Magnesium Association. Magnes-ium is used for steering wheel frames, steering column support brackets and instrument panel support beams. Total consumption of magnesium is far lower than steel and aluminum.
Magnesium is about one-third lighter than aluminum, and at $3.50 per kilogram it costs twice as much.
The chief advantages of magnesium are its light weight and its moldability. Sometimes net cost reductions are possible because a complex magnesium casting can replace assemblies of sheet metal stampings.
Erickson said a GM instrument panel beam of magnesium replaced 27 stampings and reduced the weight of the part by half.
Fiat has worked with suppliers Teksid SpA, Meridian Technologies Inc. and Lear Corp. to increase the use of magnesium in such cars as the Fiat Bravo, Fiat Marea and Alfa Romeo 156.