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Third-Generation Steel to Improve Driver Visibility

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April 24, 2018—With aluminum becoming a more prominent fixture in vehicle structures, the U.S. steel industry is developing a third generation to compete. And a large part of steel’s selling point is its ability to improve driver visibility.

A key part of that is the A-pillar, which is located in the passenger compartment of a vehicle. The A-pillar is the structural component of the car that is on the right and left of the windshield and helps to hold the roof in place. Pillars are the vertical supports of a car’s window area.

Over the years, the A-pillar has gotten larger to accommodate roof crush in accidents. But as it has grown larger, it has also hindered the driver’s view, especially when the drive is checking to switch lanes.

When aluminum is used for the A-pillar, the pillar has to be wider because aluminum is a lower-strength material. To increase the strength, the piece needs a larger width, says Jody Hall, vice president of the Steel Market Development Institute.

“So aluminum will give the car a lighter weight but impairs [the driver’s] view while driving,” she says. “Automakers can also get more shape to the passenger compartment from using steel.”

With steel, Hall says the automaker would have flexibility in designing the A-pillar, B-pillar and C-pillars in a vehicle because of the ability to mold steel into different shapes.

Hall estimates in order for aluminum to catch up to the strength and formability of current steels on the market, like hot-stamped steel and dual-strength steel, the industry will have to wait about 20 years.

There can also be mass reduction in weight  in vehicles from high-strength steel because the thickness needed in the frame is much smaller, Hall says.

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