Jaguar Land Rover plans to build a new range of electrified cars in the UK, safeguarding thousands of jobs and providing a boost for a British automotive industry that’s been rocked by job cuts and plant closures.
The move, announced on Friday, involves hundreds of millions of pounds in investments. It guarantees the future of the company’s Castle Bromwich plant in central England and comes after JLR committed to offering electrified options of all new models from 2020. The first electric vehicle off the production line will be the ninth generation of Jaguar’s flagship XJ saloon.
Brexit, a slowdown in China and flagging demand for diesel-powered vehicles have taken a toll on JLR, which owns the iconic Jaguar sports-car and Land Rover 4x4 brands. The company, part of India’s Tata Motors, said in January it would slash 4,500 jobs worldwide to conserve cash, and Tata is exploring options for the business, it was reported in March.
While contending with the slowdown JLR, like other car makers, is also navigating a costly transition toward electrification. While the Jaguar I-Pace 4x4, its first all-electric car, is being made in Austria, the company is retooling part of its Solihull plant, also in the English Midlands, to make electric versions of Land Rover’s top-end Range Rover models.
More basic vehicles are being moved to a lower-cost site in Slovakia.
JLR chief executive Ralf Speth said both the Jaguar and Land Rover brands are intrinsically British and that the UK also offers a combination of design and engineering know-how that makes focusing electric-vehicle production there the logical decision, regardless of any concerns involving Brexit-related uncertainty.
At the same time Mr Speth called on the government and industry to work together to establish giga-scale battery production, saying that’s something no one manufacturer can manage alone.
UK business secretary Greg Clark called the decision on Castle Bromwich a “vote of confidence” in the UK car sector that would put Britain at the forefront of electric-vehicle technology.
Work will commence this month on facilities and technology that will allow diesel and petrol vehicles to be produced alongside full electric and hybrid models. So complete will be the transformation that the plant will close and become a building site, Mr Speth said
JLR in January confirmed plans to locate a new battery assembly centre at Hams Hall, close to the two assembly plants. The site will become operational in 2020 with annual capacity for 150,000 units. The company also has an engine factory in nearby Wolverhampton that it says will power the next generation of Jaguar and Land Rover models.
The decision to go electric vhicle came as the firm sought to crank up the drama surrounding the first public outing of its revamped Defender 4x4, keeping the car in disguise on a hill climb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England over the weekend.
The successor to the iconic model, produced almost unchanged through seven decades, will go on sale next year with an official unveil planned in the coming months.
At Goodwood it remained in heavy camouflage to hide its design and help maximise the impact of a vehicle that will be more closely pored over than any other in JLR’s range.
While the company has moved upmarket with its most luxurious Range Rovers selling for more than £150,000 (Dh690,166), the go-anywhere ability of a model traditionally favoured by farmers and explorers is still a key attraction for customers who will never leave the highway.
The vehicle will establish itself as the world’s most capable off-road performer while offering “engaging on-road dynamics,” Land Rover chief engineer Mike Cross said at the event near England’s south coast, suggesting it may offer a smoother ride than the sometimes bone-shaking original.
No price has yet been revealed for the 2020 launch but the car will likely retail from around £40,000, according to reports, significantly more than the old model. It will come in three versions, seating between five and eight people, Autocar reported this month, citing documents published by the Disco4.com forum.
While JLR has said that all of its models will have some form of electric option from next year, it did not say whether the Defender will come as a hybrid or feature an all-electric variant.
The Defender made a couple of uphill runs a day at the Goodwood event, which ended on Sunday. A second car, displayed clambering over boulders at the JLR podium, had its lights, grill and other external features masked. The body had been padded out to disguise its true contours, according to a company official.
JLR has clocked up 1.5 million in test kilometres for the Defender and recently completed what it called a “real-world” trial in Kenya that saw the 4x4 wade rivers, climb steeply sloping hillsides and pull heavily loaded trailers while tracking lions in the Borana game reserve.
First glimpses confirmed the new car features the same boxy silhouette as the original British legend that ceased production in 2016. The vehicle counted Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II among its fans, and shuttled soldiers in the Korean War and Red Cross volunteers to crisis zones.
That model stayed remarkably unchanged until tougher carbon-dioxide emission standards and pedestrian safety concerns eventually made an overhaul unavoidable. Of the more than 2 million built, around 70 per cent are thought to survive today.
Putting the new Defender on the road is a bright spot for JLR as it struggles with fallout from the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and slumping sales in China. The country’s biggest car manufacturer said in January it would cut 10 per cent of its workers globally.
The new car was developed in Gaydon, England, and will be produced at Land Rover’s new, lower-cost plant in Slovakia.