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2014 North American International Auto Show

By Bob Weed, Copper Development Association (CDA) Vice President OEM

The Industry Preview Days for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) had everything a car enthusiast could want: shiny new vehicles, company executives, attractive and knowledgeable spokes-models and even the Vice President Biden. Although it is fun to sit in and talk about the display cars, paint, chrome and engines will not be the factors affecting the copper industry. Instead, some definite trends emerged which could have a major impact on copper in the automotive industry.

The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee – Mopar Edition displayed at the NAIAS includes electrically assisted steering.

The first is the drive to more connectivity in cars and it goes beyond the self-driving cars that are getting all the attention. The growing availability of 4G LTE has motivated engineers to provide more options and infotainment equipment. According to research firm IHS Automotive, the number of connected cars will increase worldwide from 23 million today to 152 million in 2020.

General Motors showed off 4G LTE connectivity in many Chevrolets and Ford featured more applications that work with its voice activated Sync system. GM, Audi and Tesla all revealed plans to offer internet connections in their cars with wi-fi hotspots for connecting laptops and tablets. Every OEM is hoping to differentiate their products from competitors and thereby increase revenues and profits.

A Nissan Autonomous Drive vehicle on display at the NAIAS

The profit potential explains why automakers are spending billions of dollars developing the technology for connected cars, according to a new study by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR).  The study cites that vehicle electronics now make up as much as 40-50 percent of the total cost of the vehicle compared to only 20% less than ten years ago. As companies increasingly rely of vehicle electronics to comply with safety and environmental requirements, the automotive electronics market is expected to grow even more rapidly.

The rapidly expanding market for electronic and electrical devices is another important trend for the copper industry.  Talking to the OEM representatives at NAIAS, it appears electrical assist for power steering is rapidly replacing the old hydraulic system. Some of the models on display with electrically assisted steering included Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Fusion, Ford Escape, Ford Taurus, Ford Explorer and the new Ford F-150 truck. This could lead to a trend of replacing all hydraulic applications with electronics as OEMs push hard to meet the new CAFE standards.


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