Stainless Steel DeLorean

Why are automakers not embracing stainless steel in structural applications to reduce overall weight and create safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles?


Usually when you think of stainless steel in cars, the exhaust system, the trim or the DeLorean DMC-12 from the “Back to the Future” movies come to mind.The unpainted stainless body panels of the DeLorean made for a unique looking sports car/time machine, sure, but that seems to have done nothing for the mainstreaming of stainless steel use in the manufacture of passenger cars.


The current focus in automobile design is fuel efficiency. The body panels of a DMC-12  were  certainly  heavier  than similar ones made of aluminium or steel in today’s lightweight cars and trucks, sure,  but  that  doesn’t  mean  stronger and more corrosion-resistant, per-ounce structural stainless can’t be used in pillars and  other  applications  where  bigger doesn’t always mean better or safer.


Fuel efficiency is improved when the weight of the vehicle is reduced. The “lightweighting” trend has been focused on the use of more aluminium in design; however, perhaps it’s time to re-examine stainless in structural automotive applications.

We may never  see another DeLorean-like  car  with  stainless exterior  panels,  but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for stainless in automobile production.

Five years have passed since a European consortium of stainless steel producers, automobile OEMs and other industrial partners concluded its “Next Generation Vehicle” project.

The aim of this 5-year project, begun in 2004, was to examine areas in which stainless   steel  could  be  used  in  the design and manufacture of passenger cars.


The study reported that certain stainless steels could replace carbon steel in key structural areas while still reducing overall  weight.  Significant advances were  made  in  establishing  guidelines for the proper use of stainless steel as a prerequisite. A cost model was developed which allowed for a direct comparison of different materials and different production methods through all stages of production. Software programs were developed to simulate forming and crash behaviours  which  were  then  verified by designing, building and crashing different types of B-pillars, the structural members in a car where the driver and passenger side windows end.

The Next Generation Vehicle deliverables  and  database  established a sound basis for the use of stainless steels in automotive series production, particularly for B-pillars.


Unfortunately, the European project seems to  have fizzled out with the economic crisis.   Now  that the economy has improved and stainless alloy surcharges are at a low point, why aren’t stainless mills working to promote stainless steel in automotive structural applications.


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