Automotive supplier Wagon is set to capitalise on an expected surge in the use of aluminium in car bodies over the next few years with a new UK factory designed to meet increased demand.
Consultant AT Kearney predicted a four-fold increase in the use of aluminium for body structures by the main car makers in the next four years as they seek to reduce weight and improve fuel consumption.
With exceptions such as Audi, which pioneered all-aluminium bodies on the A8 and A2 models, most manufacturers have so far stuck to steel, using high-strength grades and special techniques such as laser welded blanks to reduce weight. But Wagon group chief executive Nick Brayshaw said a clear trend towards the use of aluminium is emerging. ‘It’s coming from the top end down and from lower volumes, below 50,000 units a year, but all the major manufacturers are looking at aluminium.’
Wagon recently converted a steel body plant in western France to supply Renault and Peugeot. ‘We’d now like to replicate this in the UK and the US,’ said Brayshaw. The go-ahead for the new factory, which would be built in the west midlands and create hundreds of new jobs, would depend on gaining a major order. An alternative might be to convert an existing factory such as Brownhills.
The first sign of the trend to aluminium is its use for doors on a conventional steel body, as used on Renault’s forthcoming luxury model, the Vel Satis. Other luxury cars such as Mercedes’ Maybach, due next year, and Volkswagen’s D1, will have a significant aluminium content. Jaguar’s replacement for the XJ8, the X350, and the new F-Type will both have all-aluminium bodies.
Wagon’s core technology is stretch-bending of extruded sections. But it has also developed expertise in combining components formed in a variety of ways into accurate welded structures.
Brayshaw said he expects to pick up more UK orders, helped by Wagon’s recent acquisition of consultant Hawtal Whiting. This structural design specialist has set up a new technical centre in Warwick, so that Wagon can offer a complete design and fabrication service.