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Wagon boss makes light of auto problems.

Byline: Richard Tyler City Staff

'It's not me - it's the magnesium,' grinned Axel Schulmeyer, Central European managing director of Wagon Automotive, lifting what should have been a fairly heavy car bumper with just one finger.

On a cold and wet November day in the small German town of Waldaschaff, his enthusiasm was infectious and all the watching journalists had a go, sparking a series of less than convincing Fred Flintstone impressions.

So yes, a red-faced Birmingham Post reporter can confirm a magnesium bumper is surprisingly light. But it is not the first time the metal has been used in commercial vehicles.

In fact, magnesium was used by the Japanese and German air forces in their plane wings during the Second World War, but, as steel rose to dominate the post-war years, the technical know-how to treat, stretch and bend the metal into large vehicle components was lost.

After several years of research, Wagon has rediscovered the old technology and taken it several significant stages further.

Wagon is pitching the idea that for the automotive world, magnesium will be the aluminium of tomorrow.

With automotive manufacturers like GM and Ford keen to improve the fuel economy of their cars, especially at the luxury end of the market, Wagon is sitting pretty. Its German scientists believe it is about two and a half years ahead of its nearest rival in the testing of the alloy.

But it will be some time before magnesium door or bumper systems appear on the mass production line.

Meanwhile, Wagon is fighting against a tough trading market for its existing steel and aluminium automotive components and separate steel storage manufacturing division.

The half-year figures revealed on Wednesday, which saw pre-tax profits before exceptionals rise only pounds 300,000 on declining like for like sales, knocked the company's share price by 71/1p to 161p as the City digested analysts' pre-tax profit downgrades for the full year to pounds 24 million, down about pounds 3 million.

Wagon has been working hard for the last few years to limit its exposure to the UK automotive market. It sees future growth in continental Europe and now only makes 30 per cent of its sales from the UK - three years ago that figure stood at 80 per cent.

A series of acquisitions between February 1998 and November last year in the Czech Republic, Germany and France created the core European framework upon which the company will now grow.

It announced on Wednesday that its automotive division has a new European managing director, the very same Mr Schulmeyer, who is based in Germany.

He will work with Birmingham-based chief executive Nick Brayshaw and a regional managing director responsible for the French operations.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 8, 2000
Words:450
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