Mr. Matusczyk, the automotive sector is undergoing radical change. What role do you as a steel supplier play in this change?
Matusczyk: This is the perfect time for us to discuss in-depth future topics in the field of mobility. The automotive sector is one of the top industries in Germany, generating about €400 billion in sales and it is also a key driver of technological innovation. thyssenkrupp has worked closely with the automotive industry for decades, where it generates roughly half of its sales from products and services. We are looking to provide the OEMs with more targeted support as the industry undergoes fundamental change.
What type of support might this be?
Matusczyk: The automotive sector is undergoing radical change: OEMs are moving away from just making cars to become mobility service providers, while Internet companies like Google are starting to manufacture automobiles. The long-established borders between companies along the value-added chain are disappearing. The automotive sector is being forced to focus their R&D activities on multiple trends like autonomous driving and electric mobility. This requires major investments on their part, all while they face pressure to keep prices down. As a material services provider, we have a comprehensive overview of the entire industry as well as the changing demands placed on it. We will continue to offer attractively priced, lightweight steel solutions for vehicles with conventional drive systems, while also helping foster the transition to electric mobility with our selectrify® initiative and suitable material concepts.
Does that mean thyssenkrupp will be supplying new materials for both drive variants?
Matusczyk: Yes, that’s correct. Our R&D activities related to developing more advanced electrical steel for use in electric vehicles will focus on improving the efficiency of motors and increasing the range of cars. That, along with cost, is a key factor in broadening the appeal of electric cars. We are primarily focusing on high-strength, lightweight cold and hot forming solutions for conventionally powered cars. This includes more advanced products for use in safety-related components, for example. They allow carmakers to continue to offer the same level of protection for vehicle occupants in the event of an accident while reducing weight at the same time.
Is lightweight construction still relevant with respect to electric vehicles?
Matusczyk: We believe there will be a reassessment of lightweight construction in relation to electric vehicles. The general rule of thumb is that the lighter a vehicle is, the longer its range will be. This gain in range is much less than one might think, however. According to our calculations, reducing the weight of an average vehicle by 100 kg will only deliver roughly an 8 km improvement in its range.
How then will it be possible to extend a vehicle’s range?
Matusczyk: The battery and drive are much more important in achieving gains here. Regenerative braking, or how effectively the drive train is able to recapture energy generated during braking, is the key here. That said, lightweight steel will continue to play a role in the future. For instance, it will help make electric vehicles affordable to the masses thanks to the low-cost material solutions. available.
What role does steel play in electric mobility?
Matusczyk: Steel is essential for e-mobility. Generators, transformers, and electric motors would not work without electrical steel. The material is absolutely critical in all phases of the process, from generating energy, to transporting and distributing it to charging stations, and finally in propelling electric vehicles. Our know-how relating to electromobility is focused in our selectrify® initiative. Steel will also continue to be used as a material in the body of future generations of cars. It is better able to meet the requirements regarding cases mandated for high-voltage vehicle batteries than any other material. Because our newly developed concepts meet the highest requirements in terms of crash safety, weight and total costs. Compared to an aluminum version, our battery housing is almost weight-neutral and up to 50% cheaper. We are also focusing on the further development of our electrical steel grades to make electric motors even more efficient and thus increase the range of cars.
What is thyssenkrupp Steel specifically working on at the moment?
Matusczyk: We are expanding our range of dual-phase steels to include new, high-strength grades. At the same time we are upgrading our portfolio in this area. We are also working to increase the global availability of our innovative and highly popular zinc-magnesium coatings, for example with the newly built HDGL 10 in Dortmund. Along with that, we are developing groundbreaking new products such as our tribond® multi-layer steel composite material. We believe that R&D will increasingly shift towards optimizing component costs while maintaining the same level of protection for vehicle occupants and pedestrians, as well. In our estimates, steel has excellent prospects in this respect, which is why we are continuing to further develop our range of steel products.
Will radical changes to vehicles and their drives necessarily lead to changes in steel as a material?
Matusczyk: Absolutely. Our job each and every day is to ensure our customers receive just the right materials they need for both conventional applications and for entirely new ones as well. Not least for this reason, our application technology celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Steel is constantly proving its versatility. I am a firm believer that there is still vast potential in terms of the materials we produce.
In this context, does digitization have a role to play in steel production?
Matusczyk: We are naturally monitoring trends in digitization. In this regard, we are looking to become increasingly networked with our customers in the future. This is necessary for us to be an effective partner for them in meeting the challenges of tomorrow and dealing with the pressure to change and evolve, which is being felt in Germany’s biggest industrial sector. We look forward to working with customers in helping to shape the transformation taking place in the automotive industry. This represents a tremendous opportunity to develop innovative new products and services for sustainable, efficient mobility, which we look to seize on.