Kobe Scandal Shows Hidden Costs of Lightweight Cars

The Kobe Steel scandal has rocked the Japanese auto industry. Last week, the manufacturer confirmed that they had falsified strength and durability reports for aluminum, copper, and iron powder car components sold to automakers including Toyota, Nissan, and Honda. The company confirmed that they are investigating the falsified labels and may find more substandard products sold to automakers, aerospace companies, and other clients around the world. But this might not be the last time a steel maker is put under the spotlight for cutting corners. Automotive News reported that the push for light-weight materials has put an enormous strain on Japanese steelmakers to cut costs and develop new metals.

Automakers are desperate to improve fuel efficiency to meet consumer demand for cheap vehicles and government demand for lower emissions. Lightweight steel, aluminum, plastic, and carbon fiber are necessary to reduce weight. Ultimately, this saves money at the pump and reduces emissions from the tailpipe. As a result, parts suppliers have spent millions to develop new metals. While aluminum and advanced composites have started to appear in mass market vehicles, steel remains the most versatile and inexpensive option for most vehicles, but analysts that spoke are confident that fusion materials and inexpensive alternatives won’t be more expensive for much longer.

Steelmakers are fighting to cut weight and protect their business from competition. This induces employees like those at Kobe Steel to cut corners to save money. For now, the Kobe Steel scandal remains an isolated incident. But as the pressure mounts to develop lightweight vehicles that eke out every last mile from an electric car, automakers better keep a sharp eye on their quality controls and ensure that every component can keep drivers safe.