Aluminium Audi lightens the gloom

Audi will breathe new life into a stagnant luxury car market next month when the aluminium-bodied A8 (below) replaces the old V8 in the United Kingdom. Its frame is 40 per cent lighter and more rigid than conventional steel bodies., and Audi claims the new structure offers significant safety and efficiency benefits over rivals like the

BMW 7-series and the Mercedes-Benz S-class. This revolutionary aluminium technology brings to an end the spiral of increasingly heavy executive saloons which has dogged the motor industry for decades.

As manufacturers fought to fit their models with ever more complex technology, weight penalties took their toll on fuel consumption and running costs - to the point where the luxury car was fast becoming obsolete.

But the new Audi offers real hope to luxury car makers already struggling against criticism from environmental groups. The A8 weighs around 300kg less than its rivals, despite an abundance of luxury extras and hi-tech dynamic and safety features. The UK models will be supplied in either V6 or V8 form, costing pounds 34,500 or pounds 46,700. Not cheap, but it's a make-or-break car for the German firm: if the A8 fails like its predecessor, then Audi may have to abandon the luxury sector.

But there are already signs that the huge development and production gamble may well succeed. Several influential magazines have named Audi's new flagship the Best Luxury Car in the World - and other manufacturers are already planning to increase the use of aluminium in forthcoming models.

(Photograph omitted)