Steel is the dominant material in cars. What is ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe doing so that it stays this way? A discussion with Hans Ferkel (r.), Head of Technology & Innovation, and Bernhard Osburg, Head of Sales Automotive.
Mr. Ferkel and Mr. Osburg, how much steel is there in a car today, and how much will there be in the car of the future?
Hans Ferkel: Without offcuts, there is more than half a ton of flat steel in a typical mid-sized car. ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe mainly delivers steel that is used in the car body, wheels, and seats.
Bernhard Osburg: Steel is and remains the number one material for the automotive industry, something we’re firmly convinced of. There is competition from other materials in a few local markets and in the luxury class, though. Yet steel offers the most attractive solutions overall for the industry’s requirements.
What makes steel so interesting for the automotive industry?
Hans Ferkel: On one hand, it’s the level of costs, paired with very good crash performance, which is important for a car’s safety. On the other hand, steel is attractive in terms of the environment because making it requires relatively little energy. Modern sandwich steel, such as LITECOR®, is light and not nearly as energy intensive to manufacture as aluminum is.
Bernhard Osburg: And there’s another important aspect to mention here. Steel is available around the globe, and suppliers worldwide are very familiar with processing it. That’s a decisive consideration for our customers, who have set up their factories on a variety of continents.
What role does the automotive industry play for ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe?
Bernhard Osburg: A very important one! About 40 to 45 percent of our products go to the vehicle industry, and all of it is high-quality, high-tech steel. The automotive industry is highly innovative and very demanding. Therefore we see it as an important driver of technology.
Hans Ferkel: This is why we approach our customers in the early phases of development. We develop a lot of things together. I always say that we have to put ourselves in our customers̕ shoes to see whether a material can be processed in their existing facilities. This is something we need to know. Otherwise, we risk developing a product that the market isn’t ready for.
What role do Group-wide projects, such as ThyssenKrupp InCar®plus and InTruck®, play in this regard?
Hans Ferkel: They show that we understand car and truck products. The customer can experience and hold in their hand our innovations as seen through our components. That’s better than any PowerPoint presentation, and it’s a major strength for these projects.
Bernhard Osburg: It’s not enough today to just make new materials and leave it up to the customer to decide what they do with it. We offer the customer car-specific expertise and can say very specifically how they benefit from these product innovations.
How much of a role does geography play when you want to be close to the customer?
Bernhard Osburg: Our customers are global companies. For us, that means that our products and services also have to be available on a global scale.
The strategy of building our own factories in the U.S. and Brazil to be closer to the customer didn’t work out...
Bernhard Osburg: The fact that we gave up regional production in the U.S. doesn’t mean in any way that this market is any less important to us. Quite the contrary, we have long-term supplier relationships with our customers in the U.S., Brazil, Mexico, and other countries around the world, and we want to expand and further deepen these relationships.