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Autonomous driving boosts copper use in cars – report finds “minimal” substitution

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New research commissioned by the International Copper Association (ICA) reveals demand for copper in the wire harness in the light-duty automotive industry is expected to grow to more than 1.7 million annual tonnes of copper by 2025, a 14% increase from today’s levels.

New technologies in battery electric and hybrid vehicles and autonomous driving systems are expected to add an annual 344,000 tonnes of demand over the next decade.  

The shift to autonomous driving is expected to increase a vehicle’s copper content by around 2kg (4.5lb) as copper’s conductivity (second only to that of silver) makes it the ideal material for the high-speed data wires needed for cameras, short-range and long-range radar, lidar and sensors for advanced driver assistance systems. 

The research, conducted by Martec Group, found that while some original equipment manufacturers and suppliers are testing aluminum in place of copper in the wire harness, the overall level of substitution will remain minimal.

Trends toward fuel economy regulation, weight reduction and miniaturisation are expected to drive demand for copper in favour of aluminum, which has roughly 60% of the conductivity of copper.  Martec points out that aluminum bus bars are a threat to copper wire harnesses within the battery pack, “but still have plenty of downfalls compared to the reliability of copper.”

The contribution of EVs to overall demand will rise to 36% through 2032 while SUVs share of demand will average 1.1 million tonnes per year between 2022 and 2032, based on copper weight per unit and production forecast volumes.  

Martec: Automotive Wire Harness Market Assessment 2022