Aluminum and its alloys have long been in use as the material of choice for a wide variety of applications ranging from common household utensils to very sophisticated applications like space crafts, airplanes, etc. The automobile industry, searching for a lighter and superior corrosion resistant alternative to steel, also recognized the potential of aluminum following which its use increased progressively since early 70's (EAA, 1996) presently positioning it as the 3rd most favored material for automotive applications after steel and iron. Its use in the automobile sector is destined to increase in the coming years, and by 2005 aluminum use is projected to increase to approximately 140 kg per car from the 1995 value of 75 kg per car (EAA, 1996). Aluminum finds use in vehicles in different forms and components like cast components, extruded forms and rolled products. From the standpoint of engineering and design, aluminum and its alloys stand out to be a very promising alternative for application in various automotive casting components and products and presently more than 80% of aluminum applications in automobiles are directed towards cast components e.g. engine blocks, gear blocks, cylinder heads, etc. (EAA, report). The selection of any automotive casting material is essentially attributable to a host of parameters broadly falling under the domains of - material characteristics & compatibility, vehicle design & engineering, availability & supply, vehicle safety & performance, fuel economy & environmental standards, cost factors, etc.
This essay aims to appraise the potential of aluminum alloys for use in automotive casting applications specifically considering the engineering & design aspects of automotive cast components. Some of the important determinants and attributes of aluminum and its alloys like present and emerging areas of applications, design-casting and manufacturing technology considerations, supply-availability & environmental issues and costs & other factors have been assessed and reviewed in this paper with a view to see how it fits into the scheme of things for automotive design engineers in accomplishing the ultimate goal of designing affordable and reliable modern vehicles. As a whole this paper is expected to extend our knowledge on the real status and potential of use of aluminum alloys for automotive applications.