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Aluminum cars: safer, lighter and more expensive

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December 4, 1996
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent David George

BRASELTON, Georgia (CNN) -- A sleek new roadster is burning rubber along the highway to the future, thanks to its aluminum-intensive structure. The car is rust-proof, fuel-efficient, and safe, and could become the measuring stick for the next generation of vehicles.

"A large proportion of this car is built out of aluminum, which is a coming industry trend," Dan Panoz, president of Panoz Automotive Development, said of the Panoz Roadster.


The Panoz -- built in Braselton of parts made by Ford -- will be sold initially at only about two dozen Ford dealerships in the United States. About 200 will be built in 1997 and will sell for roughly $56,000.

While the Panoz comes close to being an all-aluminum car, even conventional cars are being built with more aluminum parts than ever.


"Ten years ago, the average content of aluminum in American cars was about 140 pounds, and I believe the Aluminum Association today rates it at 200 pounds and it continues to grow," said Joel Benedyk of Alumax Aluminum.

Why the shift from steel to aluminum?

According to Panoz, automakers like aluminum for a number of reasons. For instance, aluminum doesn't rust or corrode like steel, and it allows for a lighter yet safer structure.

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The Panoz Roadster is lined with two aluminum reinforcement tubes that act as a protective mechanism against side-impact collisions.


"You're extremely safe in this car because you have massive rails bigger than anything you'd see in a regular production car," Panoz said.

But aluminum has its downside, too. For one, it's expensive, costing nearly three times as much as steel. But the aluminum industry is working on new technologies designed to bring down manufacturing costs and to make aluminum cars more available.

Until then, the sleek Panoz Roadster will zip around as if it owns the road.


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