In June 2008, Land Rover found itself sold to its fourth owner in fourteen years, having been passed around like a hot potato between some of the world’s largest automakers. British Aerospace sold their Rover Group subsidiary to BMW in 1994; BMW broke it up six years later in 2000, selling Land Rover, the most successful brand, to Ford Motor Company. The company spent eight years as part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group (PAG) of European luxury brands, along with Volvo, Jaguar and Aston Martin, until 2008 when Ford broke up PAG to raise funds in the early days of the Detroit automotive industry crisis.
In 2008, you would have probably heard of the newest owner of Land Rover (along with fellow former PAG stablemate Jaguar), the Indian conglomerate Tata Group, in one of two ways. If your daily news source was Bloomberg or CNBC, you knew that Tata owned a huge portfolio of businesses consisting of everything from one of the world’s largest steel companies to Tetley tea and the five-star Taj hotel chain.
If your primary news source was any other news website, you had probably recently heard about the new Nano that Tata Motors – Land Rover’s new owner in the Tata hierarchy -- were about to put into production. It was going to be the world’s cheapest car, at about $1,500 United States dollars, and was designed to get the billion-plus citizens of India off of motorbikes and into enclosed cars. The press ate up the dichotomy between the incredibly cheap Nano and the luxurious flagship Range Rover.
Ford took an immense loss on the sale of Jaguar and Land Rover. Between purchasing Jaguar in 1989 and Land Rover in 2000, they had spent $5.3 billion to acquire the brands; they sold them for $2.3 billion, and paid a further $600 million in contributions to pension funds for a relatively measly $1.7 billion net income. However, the greater concern among enthusiasts and shareholders was that the fate of two of the most iconic British luxury brands was with a manufacturer with a lot of experience in commercial trucks and cheap cars and very limited experience in luxury cars.
These fears have proven to be wholly and incredibly unfounded. A decade on from signing the paperwork, Tata has turned their Jaguar Land Rover division into an immensely profitable and innovative powerhouse that is the largest automotive manufacturer in Britain. Though the ultimate power over the company resides in Mumbai, the company is for many intents and purposes managed semi-autonomously in the United Kingdom.
The 2008 Land Rover line consisted of the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, LR3, LR2, and Defender (outside North America). Except for the Range Rover Sport and LR3, which were developed on the same platform by Ford, there was not much engineering crossover between models – or between Jaguar and Land Rover. Sales were just over a quarter of a million vehicles globally between the two brands, with Land Rover pulling most of the weight.
A decade later, the Land Rover line is a very different story. All of the vehicles share one of a few basic platforms, though they are heavily modified for the needs of each model. The new Ingenium engine line, designed in-house and built in a brand-new factory in Wolverhampton, has created an adaptable and efficient platform without dealing with outside suppliers. As luxury car markets have grown in overseas markets, joint ventures to build certain models overseas in China and Brazil have opened new and profitable sales outlets while working around regional tariff issues. Otherwise, original fears of Tata pulling up the gangplank at Solihull and moving all production to India have been totally unfounded, though there is a new factory opening soon in Slovakia that is rumored to be the home of the new Defender and some Discovery manufacturing.
From those quarter of a million sales a decade ago, JLR sold around 650,000 vehicles last year. The Range Rover line, now a family of four vehicles, is Britain’s largest luxury car export, at 85% of that market. New designs like the Range Rover Velar have been runaway hits – and even better, though it’s hard to tell, it shares some basic infrastructure with the Jaguar F-Pace to cut production costs and complications.
With the development of new fuel technologies a priority for any automaker, JLR has surged ahead with capable plug-in hybrid vehicles across the brands. The Jaguar I-Pace, a fully-electric Tesla Model X competitor, suggests what new things may come in the near future from Land Rover. They’ve already announced that every Land Rover will have an electric drivetrain option by 2020. (Don’t worry, it seems combustible options will remain on the options list for a long time.) Could the new Defender feature an optional electric drivetrain, with immense torque on demand off-road?
A decade ago, in the darkness of a building economic recession, yet another sale of Land Rover seemed like a nail in the coffin for the Best 4x4xFar. Looking on it now, it may have been one of the best things to happen to the company in 70 years.
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