Toyota Makes the Jump to Aluminum

Toyota Logo Autoshow

Source: Getty Images

We may be seeing the start of a new trend in auto manufacturing.

Toyota has announced that the company will begin using aluminum in lieu of steel for its immensely popular Camry. Now, the whole vehicle won’t be getting the aluminum treatment — just the hood, but it’s a small step for the company toward lighter and even more economical vehicles. Auto News reports that sources say aluminum will be added to production in 2018, so we’re still a few year off from seeing it become a reality.

Although the Camry is the first vehicle with the Toyota nameplate to experiment with aluminum components, the company itself will actually begin trying it out in 2016 in its premium line, Lexus. The RX 350, a luxury crossover built by Toyota, will pioneer the company’s aluminum efforts, receiving an aluminum liftgate and hood.

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

“It’s no secret that the entire industry is aggressively pursuing aluminum,” she added.

Hartline is right on the money. The industry seems like it’s on the cusp of adopting aluminum as a viable alternative to steel, which is both heavier and more expensive. Specifically, Ford has made a huge splash in the news over the past couple of years for adopting aluminum. The Michigan-based auto giant has even started producing an all-aluminum version of its best-selling pickup truck, the F-150.

Naturally, shifting to aluminum production requires considerable investment on the part of the automakers, as switching up machinery and automation machines to properly cope with the new material presents some logistical challenges. However, it’s seen as an investment. Not only is aluminum cheaper than steel, but it ends up being more attractive to customers.

At least that’s the hope.

2015 Toyota Camry

The all-aluminum F-150 is expected to be 700 pounds lighter than the current version, which will save drivers plenty in the long run on fuel expenses. Apparently, Ford’s confidence in aluminum as a building material in vehicles is spilling over. If the company is willing to apply it to its best-selling vehicle, it must show promise. That is possibly why Toyota is deciding to jump on the bandwagon now, and get a head start on the competition.

While Toyota does compete with Ford’s Fusion and Taurus sedans, its main targets are other Japanese automakers like Nissan, Honda, and Hyundai-Kia. All of those manufacturers build sleek, affordable commuter cars that provide excellent fuel economics, and have built reputations for being long-lasting and dependable. The segment is most definitely crowded, but Toyota has so far been able to hold out against strong competition. The Camry is the best-selling car in America for the past 12 years, and doesn’t show any indication of slowing down.

If customers prove to be enthusiastic about Ford’s adoption of aluminum, then Toyota has definitely decided to make the right choice in rolling the dice. As energy prices increase, fuel costs are something that is on everyone’s mind. If Toyota can make its vehicles even lighter and more economical than they are now, it will give it an even bigger advantage on the market over its competitors.

“Although high-performance sports cars have historically used aluminum across hoods and body panels, the Camry would constitute the first sedan produced on a large-scale basis to switch to aluminum,” Morningstar metals analyst Andrew Lane told Auto News. “The impact to fleetwide fuel efficiency will be substantial.”

Those are promising words, and if Toyota is able to even retain the success it has had over the past decade, the company will be in good shape going forward. Aluminum manufacturing looks to not only be a boon for automakers, but a great evolution for consumers as well.

Here’s hoping drivers are as willing as manufacturers to give it a shot.

More From Autos Cheat Sheet: