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What is Jaguar Land Rover’s Future?

By Christopher A. Sawyer

Another Detroit show come and gone, but one thought remains rattling around in my head: What about Jaguar?

Despite what everyone might believe, even though it was sold to Tata Jaguar is still in the orbit of the Ford Motor Company. Every one of the cars it produces today owes something to Ford, whether it is the engines, switchgear or the electrical architecture. It is based on work begun under Ford’s ownership.

Soon that will have to come to an end. Ford has moved on, and is in the process of revamping its range of vehicles and components. Already, the Focus has replaced from the platform that supplies the underpinnings for the Land Rover LR2 and Range Rover Evoque. The powertrains also are much modified, and Ford will stop supplying the older versions as soon as the agreements with India’s Tata, Jaguar Land Rover’s new owners, allow.

To that end, JLR, has begun to develop its own family of engines, launching a new turbocharged four-cylinder and supercharged V6. There’s a strong likelihood these engines share parts of their design with the engines Jaguar inherited from its time under Ford’s umbrella, but the important thing to note is that JLR is responsible for these motors, not Ford. How they are developed, produced and priced depends on them, not someone in Dearborn.

Unfortunately, that’s only part of the challenge JLR faces. It must do the same with every part and component on its vehicles. This is not as easy as it might seem, especially when the regulatory landscape is as tough and restrictive as it is right now. Without the resources of a multinational volume automaker from which to draw, it becomes much tougher and more expensive to give the customer what he wants at a price he is willing to pay.

This is where Audi, of all the luxury automakers, has a big advantage. It doesn’t have to stand on its own, it can draw on the ample resources of the VW Group, which extend to its new modular production system. The MQB architecture just launched with the seventh generation Golf, and similar plans are afoot for a mid-engined/rear-engined sports car architecture, as well as one for longitudinal front- and all-wheel drive vehicles. But as much as this helps cut costs, it’s what happening in engines, gearboxes, electrical architectures and infotainment that will drive costs down even more. The sheer scales VW will be capable of reaching could be staggering. And that means Audi will be able to add more to its cars for less, and pick and choose form the rest of the components and systems to create new vehicles and enter new markets.

Jaguar does not have this luxury, pardon the pun, and will have to establish a compelling image and personality for its cars to combat Audi’s Blitzkrieg capabilities. That’s not impossible, but it is difficult, and it must be done at the same time the brand moves into new sectors to fill some of the larger gaps in its lineup. This includes the introduction of a new small sedan, coupe and wagon to go against BMW’s 3 and 4 Series, and at least a pair of crossovers that are more like sporting off-road coupes when compared to their Range Rover cousins. It’s a tall order.

How Tata and JLR will handle this should make for interesting viewing, and it will take a long time to determine how successful they will be. Though freed from the constraints it had placed on it as part of the Ford empire — much like a corporation or individual after it comes out of bankruptcy — JLR has had a clean slate and more autonomy than in recent memory. However, it still has some major hurdles to overcome.

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