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Jaguar studies using aluminum for next-generation S-Type

By MARK RECHTIN | Automotive News

MONTEREY, Calif. - Jaguar Cars Ltd. is close to deciding to build the next-generation S-Type with an aluminum body, a decision that would take the expensive technology out of the realm of luxury cars only.

Beyond Jaguar's pricey flagship XJ sedan and upcoming XK coupe, the only other volume car with an aluminum body is the Audi A8 sedan.

"We are taking aluminum very seriously," said Ian Callum, Jaguar Cars chief designer, at the Pebble Beach classic car weekend. "We have to consider using aluminum in more than just one model line."

Callum added that it would "absolutely make sense" to shorten the XJ platform for use in the next S-Type.

Another Jaguar source says that the decision to use aluminum for the S-Type has been all but made.

Callum said, "When you reduce the body mass, you can reduce the size of the other components, such as the size of the brakes."

Using aluminum would allow Jaguar to run the XJ and S-Type down the same assembly line at the Castle Bromwich plant in England. That would create savings through economies of scale.

Jaguar expects to sell 30,000 XJs a year globally.

S-Type sales last year totaled about 55,000 units worldwide.

Aluminum is considerably lighter than steel, which fosters impressive acceleration and fuel economy numbers, but is more expensive. The XJ weighs 400 pounds less than a Mercedes-Benz S430 and 610 pounds less than a BMW 745i, according to Jaguar.

But the higher cost of aluminum argues against its use in nonpremium vehicles, where prices are lower and profit margins narrower.

Eric Noble, president of The Car Lab con******cy in Orange, Calif., estimates that aluminum adds about $5 per pound of weight saved to a vehicle's cost compared with sheet steel. That means less development funds remaining for other crucial areas, such as interior treatments.

The tradeoff is apparent in Jaguar's new flagship, the XJ, he contends.

"Dynamically, the XJ is great, but the interior has some pieces that look like they came from a Ford Crown Victoria," he says.

"Now scale that budget back to an S-Type price point, and they could be looking at a Ford interior. To American buyers, you don't get bonus points for saving weight, but you get bad marks for using (lower-quality) pieces in the interior."

Switching to aluminum likely would divorce the S-Type from the platform it shares with the Lincoln LS. Industry analysts have decried that first platform-sharing move with Ford as the beginning of the end for Jaguar's brand exclusivity.

On the development side, Jaguar already has a working relationship with Alcan Inc., with about 40 engineers at Jaguar's r&d center for the XJ development, but who were on Alcan's payroll.

The S-Type is scheduled for a seven-year cycle, which would have the replacement arriving in spring 2006 as a 2007 model. But Callum said the company is trying to get the new S-Type out a year ahead of schedule.

Callum says there is virtually no chance of using aluminum on the next X-Type entry-luxury sedan because of cost pressures.

Callum sees the real difficulty of aluminum being in the marketing of the car. He says: "In Europe, they understand the power-to-weight equation and the benefit it has on fuel economy, while all the U.S. customer sees is performance."

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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