‘There’s plenty of mileage left for steel in car manufacturing’

By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 19 Jan 2018

STEEL will continue to be a vital component in car manufacturing for decades to come, one of the automotive industry’s leading lights has assured.

Dr Mark White, a former chief engineer with Jaguar Land Rover, was a high profile guest of Lincolnshire Iron and Steel Institute, and told how demand will actually increase in coming years, despite the rise of electric vehicles, and with it the need to lightweight.

Now a consultant, he has been a champion of aluminium bodies in his time at the forefront of British luxury design, using the material to boost performance and, increasingly, to drive down carbon emissions. 

With the sector an important end customer of the many varied supply chains that begin in Scunthorpe, his words from the forefront of the design process – he led a team of 600 in the body complete business unit – were welcomed by the gathering at British Steel’s conference centre.

Having outlined how the more expensive alternative had played such a part in his career, he said: “Don’t get too disheartened. The world isn’t going to go all aluminium with steel as the poor relation.  The A, B and C groups of cars will stay with steel until at least 2030, and that is a large band of mass produced cars that will remain steel. 

“What we will see is a more mixed material car and a flow down (of innovation) from luxury models. Large trucks, large SUVs and large EVs are the target markets, everything else will be steel.”

And it is the scale of the market, that breeds confidence.

“Globally we make 80 million cars today,” said Dr White, who has recently launched his own consultancy, while primarily continuing to work with JLR, suppliers, and others.  “From now until 2030 it is going to go from 80 million cars to over 120 million cars. That’s over 50 per cent growth. It may be a mature and stable market in Europe and the US, but elsewhere, substantial growth in Chian and Asia will drive the demand for more steel.

“That’s a huge market and it is predominantly a steel market.  There will be aluminium growth, but the main growth will predominantly be steel.

“Today we are at 97.5 to 98 per cent steel for car body production. Even with best predictions, aluminium growth will be five to 10 per cent in the next decade, and growth in the car industry outstrips growth in aluminium. There is plenty of mileage left to do.” 

XK production

Dr White joined the West Midlands team 30 years ago as a graduate engineer, having been inspired by Jaguar Le Mans victories in his childhood. 

“As a boy these were the cars of your dreams,” he said, with his thoughts resonating in the audience. “I was born in 1960, and in the early Sixties Jaguar sports cars were the cars to have. Enzo Ferrari said the only thing wrong with the E-Type was it didn’t have a Ferrari badge on it.”

However, before he was in long trousers, under British Leyland in 1967, all development work stopped on sports cars and aluminium. 

“I had a burning passion, I always wanted to join Jaguar, and when I came along in 1986, there was a feeling within the company that we should go back to our roots and do something exciting.”

Excitement emerged in the shape of the XJ220. 

His first aluminium car project was the XJ in 2002, followed by the XK in 2006. “I didn’t get to work on the XJ220, but I followed it enthusiastically,” he said. “All sports cars used it for performance. We could take 200kg out of a steel car just by putting an aluminium body on it.”

Now it is about lowering CO2 and emissions, with measurements halved. For example, the Jaguar XE Performance E emits only 99g/km, compared to upwards of 300g/km from vehicle in the late Nineties.

The weight-saving technology comes at a price though, with aluminium up to double the material cost of a steel body, and carbon fibre considerably more.

“Steel will always be the benchmark for material cost,” Dr White added. “It is about how you get the lowest weight for the lowest cost increase. It is important to understand that and work to it.”



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