By on September 18, 2010

Usually, people are worried about China stealing their vaunted trade secrets. Now they are shocked by the prospect that China might use less steel. Steel Guru, the go to site for the heavy metal crowd, is up in arms about a Bloomberg report that the Chinese may use less or lighter steel for their cars.

Wang Li head of auto sheet research and development at Shanghai based Baoshan Steel, the company that supplies half of China’s auto steel, said that Chinese cars are about 5 percent to 10 percent heavier than competing models made by foreign companies such as Volkswagen and GM. Now isn’t that a surprise? Reducing the weight would (duh) shave 6 percent to 8 percent off fuel consumption.

Mr Wang said that an alliance of Baoshan, Geely, FAW, Dongfeng and Chongqing Changan will contribute to the weight reduction project. Southwest Aluminum (Group) Co, a unit of Aluminum Corp of China Ltd, will also take part.

Mr Wang that “We aim to cut their car weight to match overseas rivals by 2013. Our work is to make automotive steel thinner and stronger.” On average, just 28 percent of the steel used in vehicles sold in China is high strength material, compared with 50 percent to 60 percent globally.

Mr. Wang should know that just using higher tensile strength steel is just a small part of the equation. The tricky part is to build a car that is both light and safe. You want to build a car that crushes like a beverage can in just the right places, while protecting the passengers in a safe house built into the car. But of course that knowledge won’t help a steel manufacturer.

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11 Comments on “OMG: Chinese Cars Are Too Heavy!...”

  • avatar

    If they’re not careful, chinese cars will lose their reputation for structural integrity.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, that would be disastrous.

    • 0 avatar

      Like this model, which should be renamed the ‘Origami’ —

    • 0 avatar

      The video link you provided claims to be a crash test of a Chinese vehicle.  However, the truck being crashed was neither designed nor manufactured in China.  The vehicle is a Volkswagen T3 and (apparently) the crash test parameters were non-standard: the vehicle was well used (read: old not new) and significant weight was placed in the cargo bed.
      Check out this link and have a look at the highest rated comment:
      Chinese cars are definitely not as safe as vehicles designed in Japan, South Korea, the United States, Germany, France, Italy, etc…  However, they are not as bad as portrayed in misleading videos like this.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 Tokyo Plumber. There are a few of those red herring videos out there.
      That said, I wouldn’t go to the end of my driveway in a car designed in China. Say what you will about tort law, but I don’t trust Chinese automakers when businesses (aside from a few high profile cases) get away with spiking baby formula with plastic, putting sulfur in drywall, and putting lead in kids’ toys paint. A couple of executives might get executed (See what I did there?) but when it comes to business, that’s not nearly as compelling a deterrent as a big hit to the almighty dollar yuan would be.

  • avatar

    Clearly, Chinese automakers (rather than Chinese steel producers) are pushing the bigger boulder in creating lighter, but safer cars.  However, material availability will be key to the success of this effort; its significance should not be downplayed.
    My experience is that China still has far to go in matching the range of steels* available in North America, Europe and Japan (and South Korea).  Common grades of steel and stainless steel are readily available from Chinese steel mills.  However, it is extremely difficult to source more specialized grades (ie, application or industry specific).  Chinese steel mills either do not have the experience / knowledge or (if they do) their order requirements are prohibitively large.
    My guess is that Baosteel is playing up their role in this project more for sales and marketing purposes.  If they are going to start producing new higher strength steels they will need to prime the market.  Baosteel will need sufficient volume (orders) to justify making their new grades.
    It’s the old chicken and egg scenario, I think.  The Chinese automakers need stronger materials that are not currently available domestically.  The Chinese steel producers need significant orders before they can start rolling out new grades.  This alliance for lighter, safer cars will allow the automakers and the steel producers to develop their respective products in parallel.
    (* I refer to mill products like sheet, rod and pipe.  Castings are quite a different matter!)

  • avatar

    I don’t know anything about steel use in Chinese cars, but I do know a bit about Steely Dan and “Peg.”  One of my favorite tracks, one of my favorite YouTube vids.  Great stuff.  Thanks.

  • avatar

    Chinese Steel?  I’ll go with the Dan of Steel anytime.

  • avatar
    George B

    Thanks for the Steely Dan video.  Loved how Chuck Rainey was able to sneak a little slap into the bass part by hiding behind stuff.  BTW, I think the present day instrument he’s playing in the video is a Modulus Quantum 5 bass which uses a carbon fiber neck in place of wood.  Sort of fits with the advanced material theme of the car article.

  • avatar

    Vehicles that look, drive, and crash competitively, but are too heavy, is the stage of automotive development after “passenger compartment folds up and crushes passengers”.
    Example, the first Kia Sedona minivan.  Competitive seeming, but hundreds of pounds heavier than the competition.

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