Even if the automotive industry in China has witnessed a couple of years of slowdown, China still remains the world’s largest automotive manufacturing country, a position it has held since 2008.
In 2018, annual vehicle production in China accounted for over 30 percent of worldwide vehicle production, exceeding that of the European Union or that of the United States and Japan combined.
For SSAB Automotive’s Area Sales Manager Yan Bing, the timing to join the Swedish steel company in 2001 couldn’t have been better: it was the early 2000s, when the automotive boom really began to gather steam in China, with an emerging middle class and China’s economic development as the main drivers.
“My career has almost perfectly matched the most dynamic period of China’s automotive industry’s history and I’m extremely proud to be a witness to that and to participate in history,” he says.
Yan Bing was born in 1974 and raised in various parts of China, from south to north. He has two daughters, aged nine and four. His technical background is material science and engineering.
Shortly after Yan Bing had joined SSAB, in 2003 the company started, to supply its automotive brand Docol’s advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) to the automotive industry in China.
“Market demand today has overwhelmingly changed compared with 2003. AHSS has been widely accepted as the most important lightweight material for applications in the automotive industry. China’s local steel mills, such as Baosteel, have also developed a series of AHSS grades and started to promote them in the China market,” says Yan Bing.
On the subject of current trends in the China market, he says that they will more or less mirror the trends in the global market, such as an increased use of AHSS and an increased competition with other lightweight materials, such as aluminum.
“China might focus more on the development of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), while the need for battery protection should bring higher demand for top AHSS grades, especially the Martensitic grades,” Yan Bing says.
SSAB has recently introduced the Docol EV Design Concept, which includes innovative ideas – for example, battery protection in electric cars. Yan Bing says that this concept has captured great interest from electric vehicle OEMs in China.
“As a first step, some have been using Docol AHSS for critical parts like cross members to achieve high strength and low weight at the same time, although it’s still challenging to develop the whole battery protection structure only with AHSS. The concept plays a role as a trigger to provoke new ideas rather than a ready-made drawing to guide the design of the car body structure. Cooperation between OEMs, tier suppliers and SSAB is the key to success.
“It’s deeply embedded in SSAB’s company culture to never stop challenging the limits of Docol AHSS’s usability by developing ever more user-friendly grades that can, in combination with advanced manufacturing methods such as 3D-roll forming, contribute to customers’ efforts to realize weight reduction at a lower or affordable cost,” he says.
This year, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected many businesses around the world. Yan Bing admits that SSAB’s business in China was no exception, but he says he continues to be optimistic about the future.
“Our business was affected due to reduced demand from customers and restricted travel. However, the automotive industry in China is recovering gradually and we are optimistic about the outlook for the second half of 2020,” he says.