Bicycles with aluminium frames were being made as long ago as 1894 and in 1899 cars with aluminium bodies were built in Germany. In 1907 attempts were made to make engine pistons from aluminium, but at first the design and manufacture of the pistons was not mastered. Aluminium was too expensive for bodies. The systematic development of engine parts made from aluminium alloys began after the First World War. It found its way slowly into the production in the 1930s. Since the 1950s, aluminium has been increasingly used in commercial vehicles and since the 1980s in bicycles and motor bikes. The reasons for this are the properties of aluminium such as corrosion resistance, good thermal conduction and low specific weight. For the same strength, aluminium parts are up to 50 per cent lighter. Aluminium pistons allow higher rotational speeds or performance and thus contribute to energy saving thanks to better fuel economy (cars save 0.3-0.5 litres of petrol per 100 kilometres for every 100 kilograms less weight). Today the car industry is one of the main customers for aluminium.
With trucks and buses, the weight saving enables the pay load to be increased. This coupled with the energy saving during empty trips and trips with part loads means the higher investment costs for aluminium lightweight construction pays for itself in less than two years. Pistons and gearbox housings are now made exclusively as aluminium castings. With the chassis, wheels, brake parts, fuel tanks and bumpers are increasingly being made from aluminium. There are differences when it comes to aluminium superstructure:
- Trucks: with flatbed tucks the tailboards are made of aluminium, in some cases the whole truck and drivers cab is made completely of aluminium. For a given total weight, tiltable aluminium truck bodies increase the payload for bulk materials by up to 12 per cent, likewise tanks and silos.
- Buses: aluminium is used for superstructures, window frames, doors, heating and ventilation ducts, and handrails; in isolated cases, aluminium sheet riveted and/or bonded to a steel framework or all-aluminium bodies is used.
European cars contain on average 130 kilograms of aluminium castings, sheet and profiles and American cars some 150 kilograms, and the trend is upwards.
- Engine and gearbox: pistons, inlet manifolds, alternator casings, starter motors, radiators (heat exchangers), engine blocks, connecting rods, cylinder heads and gearbox housings.
- Chassis: callipers, brake cylinder housings, steering gears, ABS pumps, wheels, wishbones and shock absorbers.
- Body: bonnets and boot lids, doors, mudguards, shock absorber cross bars, crash elements, structural parts, trim; with small-series vehicles (upper price category), bodies are sometimes made completely from aluminium using a sheet shell or space frame construction.
- Bicycles made completely from aluminium have been around for a long time for sportsmen and these are also being increasingly used in the leisure field. For bicycles in general, many parts are now made from aluminium: for example brake callipers, operating levers, wheels, handlebars and wheel hubs, carriers, seat posts.
- Since the end of the 1980s, one-piece cast wheels and frames welded from profiles have also been used for motorcycles, in addition to parts such as pistons, casings for engines and gearboxes, operating levers, brake callipers, wheel hubs and rims of spoked wheels.