Jaguar Land Rover plans to build a new range of electrified cars in the U.K., 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 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 sport-utility brands. The company, part of India’s Tata Motors Ltd., said in January it would slash 4,500 jobs worldwide to conserve cash, and Tata is exploring options for the business..
While contending with the slowdown JLR, like other carmakers, is also navigating a costly transition toward electrification. While the Jaguar I-Pace SUV, 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 autos are being moved to a lower-cost site in Slovakia, which took over production of the Land Rover Discovery last year and will also make the revived version of the brand’s original Defender model. JLR is showcasing that car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in camouflage disguise and without revealing whether it will come as a hybrid as standard or feature an all-electric variant.
JLR Chief Executive Officer Ralf Speth said both the Jaguar and Land Rover brands are intrinsically British and that the U.K. also offers a combination 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 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.
U.K. Business Secretary Greg Clark called the decision on Castle Bromwich a “vote of confidence” in the U.K. auto 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 gasoline 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, Speth said.
JLR in January confirmed plans to locate a new battery assembly center 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.
By Christopher Jasper