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September 25, 2009

THE WEEK THAT WAS: JLR faces the future

It looks like big changes ahead for Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

It looks like big changes ahead for Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

The Indian firm bought the maker of iconic luxury sedans and SUVs in mid-2008 just as the global credit crisis started to bite and has been working hard on cost reductions to eventually see some profit for its efforts. So now there’s a new business plan designed to increase global competitiveness “significantly, drive growth and sustained profitability, and respond to the challenges of climate change” – a model line heavy on SUVs, V6s and V8s, albeit with a fair number of relatively fuel efficient diesels, does not win ‘green’ plaudits despite a carbon offset scheme offered to some buyers.

Is a four-cylinder turbocharged Range Rover in the future? Or maybe something like former owner Ford’s Flex with an EcoBoost (turbocharged) V6 that has the same performance as the less fuel efficient, higher CO2-emitting V8 that would have once been the favoured powerplant?

“The plan includes decisive actions to see through the next 12-18 months as markets recover and positions the company to grow and prosper in the future. It includes a new and expanded range of products and environmental technology, delivered through streamlined and competitive costs and a new manufacturing strategy,” JLR said this week. UK jobs, already cut by some 2,500, are relatively safe till 2014 when the hard decision has to be made – close Castle Bromwich or Solihull? Unions, understandably, were not best pleased.

Speaking of Ford, CEO Alan Mulally has been racking up the air miles this week, flying first to India to launch next year’s new Figo, an update of the previous generation European Fiesta hatchback designed especially for that fast growing market. It’ll be built in a much-expanded and much more automated factory with the latest flexible production technology. Until now the Ikon (a sedan based on an older European Fiesta platform and Fiesta (sedan equivalent of the Figo) have been made in India for India alongside the Endeavour SUV but Ford has now designated the facility a small car centre – as rivals Suzuki and Hyundai have done with their local factories – and is getting ready to start exporting to the Asia Pacific region.

Next, Mulally was off to China where, earlier today, he took part in the ground-breaking ceremony for the second Changan Ford Mazda Automobile (CFMA) factory in Chongqing, a US$490m facility due for completion in 2012.

The flexible 1m sq m plant will start with production of the next-generation Focus in 2012 and will later add “a diversified range of products”. Initial capacity will be 150,000 vehicles a year, taking total CFMA output to 600,000 units by 2012. Over the next three years, Ford will introduce four new model lines in China. They’ll add to the Focus, Mondeo and S-Max lines already made in Chongqing and, made in Nanjing, the latest generation Fiesta – including a very smart new sedan developed for markets like China, India and South America where this body style is preferred over the hatchbacks we like in Europe.

Barely a day goes by now without something on electric cars whether it’s yet another new model from a manufacturer you never heard of, another battery joint venture or another ‘technology breakthrough’ set fair to change the world as we know it. So, amongst the hype, a refreshing reality check from an automaker we have heard of – Daimler – and its feet-on-the-ground R&D chief Thomas Weber.

In short, EVs are the future, no doubt of that, but pure EVs with sensible ranges and genuinely quick ‘refuelling’ technology are two decades away, Weber reckons. For now, look for continual improvements to petrol and diesel engines – we’ve seen lots of that in the last few years – and more hybrid technology as the next developments towards zero emission vehicles.

Enjoy your weekend,

Graeme Roberts
Deputy/News Editor

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