Increased demand for aluminum - or 'alloy' - wheels is driving the aluminum market in Europe, according wheel producer Hayes Lemmerz Holding GmbH.
Aluminum wheels account for about 28 percent of the entire light-vehicle wheel market in Europe. The level is around 55 percent in the USA. But demand in Europe is growing by at least 1 percentage point a year. This growth, said Hayes Lemmerz, has been stronger than expected - partly because of the trend toward special edition models.
'For example, when Opel decides to build a special edition model for its centenary, you might have to supply 100,000 additional vehicles with aluminum wheels,' said Horst Koll, vice president of sales and business development at Hayes Lemmerz.
Hayes Lemmerz has also carried out major work to reduce the weight of steel wheels.
Koll said today's steel wheels are around 20 percent lighter than they were three years ago. 'But with a normal black wheel nobody is particularly aware of the work we have done,' he said.
Weight reduction is a big issue in the wheel market - but it is not the major factor driving the growth in aluminum wheel sales.
Many highly styled aluminum wheels are larger than standard steel wheels, and are often no lighter.
'If you have highly styled aluminum wheels, you do not have an advantage (over steel),' said Koll.
People associate aluminum wheels with upmarket cars, he said.
'Buyers may not be be able to afford upmarket cars, but they can afford to specify aluminum wheels on a mid-range model,' said Koll. 'Consumer demand is really driving the aluminum wheel market.'