Toyota’s big leap to aluminum

 

Toyota Motor Corp. is set to become the next global automaker to begin making the expensive shift from steel to aluminum for a high-volume vehicle.

The U.S.-built Camry, the country’s best-selling car, is slated to get an aluminum hood in 2018, according to a source familiar with the plans.

Toyota’s first foray into aluminum closures in North America will come next year when the 2016 Lexus RX 350 crossover, which is made in Cambridge, Ontario, gets an aluminum hood and liftgate, the source said.

The aluminum sheet for the Camry hood likely will come from a joint venture between Toyota Tsusho Corp., a trading company affiliated with Toyota Motor Corp., and Kobe Steel to produce more aluminum sheet metal in the U.S. Toyota will be among the venture’s first customers, several sources confirmed. Production is expected to begin in 2017 and ramp up to full output at the beginning of 2018.

Negotiations on site selection and some details for the joint venture are expected to conclude this month. The operation, which will produce 100,000 tons of aluminum sheet capacity annually, will be built in the Southeast, possibly near Wise Alloys, a Muscle Shoals, Ala., aluminum producer for the food and beverage industries, which will source the master coils to make the aluminum sheet, according to a source involved with negotiations.

Toyota declined to comment on specific plans for the Camry but said it plans to use more aluminum across its lineup.

“Toyota has plans to use aluminum on future vehicles for hood, closures and parts for lightweighting,” said spokeswoman Jana Hartline. “Also, we will increase usage of mix metals and resin materials to enhance lightweighting efforts.”

Toyota uses aluminum in the hood and trunk of certain vehicles made in Japan, including the Prius, as well as the hoods of most Lexus sedans and the Scion FR-S sports car. Neither the 2014 Camry nor the heavily re-engineered 2015 Camry uses aluminum for its frame or body panels.

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