Cost reduction, quality improvement, and regulatory compliance are well-recognized competitive issues. Companies must excel along each of these fronts while operating in an environment of rapid and multi-faceted change, limited financial and human capital, and increasing product development time pressure. In addition, consumers are demanding automobiles that provide greater performance, function, and comfort while emitting lower emissions, consuming fewer gallons of gasoline, injuring fewer humans, and requiring fewer dollars to build and purchase. A solution to these seemingly conflicting objectives is to take a systems view of the product and industry. This paper explores the material decision process so that manufacturers, component suppliers, and material providers may better understand the interlocking web of compromises that shape the pursuit of value-added alternatives and avoidance of unprofitable compromises.