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THE WEEK THAT WAS: JLR returning to global manufacturing?

By Graeme Roberts | 10 July 2015

For now, Discovery Sport is solely Halewoods responsibility but for how much longer?

For now, Discovery Sport is solely Halewood's responsibility but for how much longer?

Tata Motors' Jaguar Land Rover looks like it is slowly building up to a global manufacturing footprint that, at least a little, mirrors the spread achieved by its brands' one-time owner, British Leyland.

Once upon a time, the sun never set on the Leyland empire, which manufactured or assembled cars, trucks and Land Rovers in many British Commonwealth countries, once colonies and dominions of Mother England. Full manufacturing in South Africa, Spain and Australia, assembly plants in smaller 'British' markets like New Zealand, a European assembly plant in Belgium: the spread was vast. The post-war Land Rover was specifically designed for easy assembly and high local content - its aluminium body and steel chassis were relatively simple to replicate and procure locally so the local importer could preserve precious foreign exchange for the engines and gearboxes and other harder-to-make bits best sent over from the mother ship in Solihull.

Slowly we're seeing history repeat. JLR has had a succession of new product hits and is gradually rolling out local production where it makes sense, usually to dodge punitive tariffs on built-up imports. This includes CKD kit assembly at its parent's plant in Pune, India where various Land Rover and Jaguar models are built for sale at much more competive prices than fully assembled units from Halewood and Castle Bromwich. Meanwhile the 24,000-unit Brazil CKD plant is about nine months off Job One, likely building the top selling model there, the Range Rover Evoque, and two more JLR models with as much local content as possible to meet local auto industry rules. Evoque build in China - full manufacturing in partnership with Chery at a new factory in Changshu - is now well under way using locally made engines.

And still the announcements come. We learned just last week JLR has agreed a manufacturing partnership with Magna Steyr to build some future vehicles in Graz, Austria. And, this week, there were reports JLR is in talks that could result in a new manufacturing plant in Eastern Europe. Poland's deputy prime minister Janusz Piechocinski reportedly said the country is in talks over what would be "the biggest investment in the car manufacturing industry in Poland". "Poland is still in the game as regards a certain Asian investor," he told journalists. "Our remaining rival is Slovakia." It is being widely assumed that the remarks concern a potential investment by JLR.

JLR has been continuously rolling out new products. The Evoque was a smash hit when new several years ago and has since been joined by a new Discovery Sport, replacing the Freelander. The Jaguar XJ - getting a nip 'n' tuck soon - and the XF are relatively fresh thanks to continual updates and regular new model variants and there's a shiny new XE to take over from the forgotten X-type, not forgetting an all-new XF later this year. JLR said its plans take its three UK plants close to operating capacity and that the collaboration with Magna Steyr would create additional volume needed to support further growth.

CEO Ralf Speth has moved to reassure nervous unions: "The UK remains at the centre of our design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities. Partnerships such as this will complement our UK operations and engineering. This agreement will allow us to expand our award-winning model range as customers around the world demand ever-more innovative vehicles from Jaguar Land Rover."

Keep flying the flag, gents.

Have a nice weekend, all.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com