Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) owes its success to the policies of the group’s former chairman, Ratan Tata, the company’s CEO said on Tuesday (15).
Ralf Speth, who has been at the helm of one of the automotive industry’s biggest turnarounds, credited Tata for saving two iconic British brands – Jaguar and Land Rover – from oblivion.
Speth believes the luxury brands were able to flourish under Tata Motors’ ownership as a result of the vision of the group’s former chief.
“All our engineering and research and a majority of our plants are in the UK, and we have also just established a new engine facility,” he said on the sidelines of the Frankfurt Motor Show.
“So the heart and soul of the firm remains in Britain but we have to say that JLR would not exist if Mr Ratan Tata would not have bought these British brands,” Speth added.
“And then, after the Lehman Brothers crash, he invested twice in order to revive the company. In 2010, we were two very proud but struggling brands, selling below 200,000 units. There was an urgent need to restructure, improve efficiency and achieve growth.
“That has been done thanks to the policy of Ratan Tata and now Cyrus Mistry, who continues to believe in the policy to give us the freedom to grow and invest,” he said.
Since 2010, the company has nearly doubled its sales and workforce and trebled its profits.
The Frankfurt event marks a major milestone for the company, which makes an entry into the SUV market with its Jaguar brand for the first time.
The F-Pace, which was revealed to the world as part of a roller-coaster stunt on Monday, is being hailed by auto experts as an ideal crossover car that is likely to prove a hit with many first-timers to the brand.
“We have a sensational line up of new products. The Best of British is not just a catchy phrase, but a statement of fact, that when Britain gets it right, it makes very special things that can match the very best in the world,” Speth said.
The company has also been focusing on automated car technology but for its chief, the control factor will define all future technology.
“We have hands free, feet free and soon mind free. For our customers who love driving, the off button is essential and that’s what we focus on in terms of design and driving pleasure,” he said.
JLR has no plans to set up a manufacturing facility in India to make premium cars as the country currently is not a market for them, Speth added.
“Localisation is a step by step process. Manufacturing is always a possibility in India. It will depend on India developing its economy. At this moment, India is not a market for premium cars in terms of volumes that justify building a plant there,” he said.
“If it were to explode in terms of GDP and come closer to the Chinese market of 24 million cars a year, we can think about a unit in India,” he added.
In the rapidly expanding luxury car market in India, JLR lags behind premium German rivals like Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. But Speth is not too worried as a “niche player” with a smaller product range.
“The clear task is to win and in the segments we are competing in, we are very well positioned,” he said, adding that plans are a little way off for the firm, which currently assembles cars as completely knocked down (CKD) units at its Pune plant, to manufacture them in India.
In a reference to the Chinese market, Speth admitted the slowdown in its economy was a concern: “JLR is well spread out, the US is getting stronger and Europe is growing. As for what is being referred to as the ‘new normal’ (in China) everyone has to adjust and adapt. But it won’t throw us out of orbit.”