TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Jaguar Cars’ Castle Bromwich assembly plant in the U.K. is preparing its case for more aluminum vehicles, having successfully validated the concept with the now-profitable aluminum XJ.

The upfront investment is paying off, says Mark White, Jaguar senior body structures manager for Jaguar and Land Rover Vehicles for Ford Motor Co. The XJ is profitable, he says.

The next step is the business case for future aluminum monocoque Jaguars. Following the brand’s cycle plan, the next-generation S-Type would be up for consideration first, as an ’06 or ’07 model, followed by the XK around 2010.

Bromwich assembles the current S-Type and XK, but only the XJ has an aluminum body mated to a steel subframe.

Jaguar's Mark White says the company is building a business case for future aluminum monocoque Jaguars.

Ford has invested in a dedicated aluminum pressing facility at Bromwich for the XJ. The stamping facility, adjacent to the body assembly line, can handle aluminum versions of the S-Type and XK, should the auto maker go that route in the next-generation.

“We have the ability to do all three (cars in) aluminum if the business case is there,” White says.

“We know what it costs to do it for other models. But if they don’t meet the cost target, we won’t do it,” he says, noting he will have a series of deadlines to meet over the next three years.

The technology is ever evolving, and that plays into the business case as well. “We want to develop the technology even further,” White says.

The auto maker is identifying where costs are too high and working to reduce them. The goal is to further cut weight (aluminum currently reduces weight 40%-45% over steel); develop an even more efficient aluminum body structure; and improve manufacturing, such as rationalizing some of the 17 different riveting processes.

The rivet process also can be improved from an awkward system of rivets in a long band of tape to a blow-feed operation where they are loaded into a hopper and shot out like a dart gun through an air tube to nearby rivet guns.

Piloted on the long-wheelbase XJ, the process is being validated for future use as well. Switching from a tape feed to blow feed for the rivets will save $25 per vehicle, White says.

Alcan Inc. has been a partner with Jaguar, coming up with adhesive bonding that dramatically increases stiffness, which allows for lower gauge (thinner) aluminum to be used and saving on material cost, says Mike Kelly, Alcan Automotive vice president-global program director.

Alcan also does pre-treatment and pre-lubrication work. Additionally, the aluminum producer developed the just-in-time supply route for the 125 parts it sends to Bromwhich.

Kelly explains the aluminum starts in smelters in Quebec, Canada. Facilities in Western Germany do hot-rolling, and plants in Eastern Germany produce cold-rolled aluminum.

A finishing line does the pre-treatment and pre-lubrication. There is a laser-blank cut-to-length line in the U.K. and a storage facility feeding nearby Bromwich.

In 2003, Alcan supplied Jaguar with 1 million laser blanks, Kelly says.

apriddle@primediabusiness.com