According to Tom McGee, CEO of Inter-industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair, the growth of aluminum will be a challenge. Because aluminum is a lighter material than steel, it is used by automakers to reduce the weight of the vehicle, and in turn improving fuel economy and performance. It is also used to add additional features without adding a great amount of weight to the vehicle.
Within the industry, there is some disagreement over the safety of aluminum. Although the Audi A8 is considered one of the safest cars in a crash because of the design of its aluminum skeleton, Mercedes-Benz has a preference for high-strength in areas such as roof pillars and other critical areas. Even though the rest of the bodies of
All aluminum bodies are customarily found on high-priced cars, whereas aluminum hoods, fenders, and tailgates are more provincial to trucks because of their need in meeting targeted fuel economy. Aluminum also lightens the hoods of trucks and lift gates of sport utility vehicles, which makes them easier to handle. It is predicted that within the next five years, the extensive use of aluminum body panels will find their way into the economy vehicles as well.
A major disadvantage of using aluminum at this point is the lack of enough technicians to handle the workload. More training is the solution to the problem, and though it does not require that much more time or expense to repair aluminum body panels, there still need to be qualified technicians to do it because it is different than repairing steel or plastic body panels. However, the difference is so great that many shops fail to tackle any serious aluminum repairs. In fact, there are only eleven shops in the USA and Canada who have certified technicians to repair damage to the Audi A8L and the A8 predecessor although there are an additional fourteen who are qualified to fix damage of a lesser degree.
Repairing cars made of aluminum is a much longer process and more complex. Unlike repairing a vehicle made of steel, there is no coming back and cleaning it up if the work is not done correctly the first time. Bob Porazzo, an aluminum repair instructor at I-Car and a teacher at one of Boston's vocational schools says this increases the cost of aluminum to 15-20% over the cost of steel because of the cost of the products and the extra care that must be taken. Body shops need to have separate areas and tools that are
exclusive to the repair of aluminum-bodied vehicles. The initial investment for the tools alone is approximately $10,000. If a separate area is not used, the potential of contamination from steel or dust from steel repairs exists, opening the doors for the corrosion of the aluminum.
Glass-mat-thermoplastics (GMT) has been around for a number of years though only thus far in the interiors of the vehicles. These materials consist of short-glass-fiber mat in different thermoplastic bas resins. So far, they have not gained popularity as exterior automotive components because of concerns with cosmetic, structural, and production. As a result, this has limited their appeal for widespread use.
This line of thinking may soon change. GE Advanced