Edi­tor’s Let­ter

Automobile - - Contents - By Mike Floyd

Jaguar Land Rover has its eggs in mul­ti­ple bas­kets.

THERE’S A HECK of a lot of hand-wring­ing and head-scratch­ing go­ing on th­ese days in the board­rooms, en­gi­neer­ing pods, and prod­uct plan­ning de­part­ments of the world’s largest au­tomak­ers. The de­ci­sions be­ing made now will de­ter­mine their di­rec­tion for the next five to 10 years or more. But which di­rec­tion?

Amer­i­cans can’t seem to get enough crossovers—for now. How much longer should mak­ers in­vest in the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine? Are elec­tric pow­er­trains the real an­swer, or will an­other solution emerge? Will any­one still want to em­brace per­for­mance and drive for the love of driv­ing any­more? How long be­fore cars drive us?

The sim­ple an­swer in the near-term is there are no sim­ple an­swers. But there are those who are po­si­tioned bet­ter than most. Who have their eggs neatly ar­ranged in mul­ti­ple bas­kets. Who ap­pear to be nim­ble enough to quickly turn once the fu­ture of the au­to­mo­bile starts to come into clearer view. Jaguar Land Rover ap­pears to be one of those au­tomak­ers.

I re­cently had a chance to sit down with JLR’s pres­i­dent and CEO for North Amer­ica Joe Eber­hardt, who has been run­ning things out of New Jersey since late 2013. The com­pany has had its share of chal­lenges since the two sto­ried Bri­tish brands were ac­quired from Ford and con­sol­i­dated by In­dia’s Tata in 2008. But since Eber­hardt’s come on, the news has been mostly good here in the U.S. with record sales for 2015-’16.

Eber­hardt has ac­com­plished a lot dur­ing his 30-year ca­reer span­ning mul­ti­ple au­tomak­ers, but his time at JLR has been some of the most fun he’s had. “The fact that we are the only Bri­tish lux­ury vol­ume brand I think makes us quite unique,” he said, “and we were for­tu­nate enough to have the prod­uct port­fo­lio … that al­lows us to record im­pres­sive sales growth.”

As is the case with any au­tomaker with more than one brand un­der a sin­gle um­brella, there is in­vari­ably plat­form, en­gine, and com­po­nent shar­ing. The fan­tas­tic new Range Rover Ve­lar I spent a week in re­cently shares sev­eral el­e­ments with our Four Sea­sons Jaguar F-Pace, for ex­am­ple. But thanks to the styling ef­forts of Land Rover de­sign di­rec­tor Gerry McGovern, his coun­ter­part at Jaguar, Ian Cal­lum, and their teams, they’ve been able achieve a large de­gree of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion.

“To have not one but re­ally two of the lead­ing de­sign­ers in the busi­ness is un­heard of and al­most a gift for us,” Eber­hardt said. “The whole com­pany em­braces the im­por­tance and rel­e­vancy of de­sign.”

Jaguar now has two Cal­lum-de­signed crossovers, the F-Pace and the soon-to-ar­rive com­pact E-Pace, but Eber­hardt is de­ter­mined to stay the course with the brand’s cars, de­spite the con­tin­ued growth of crossovers in the mar­ket. “We in­ter­nally de­bate that a lot, and ev­ery time I think the SUV share can’t go any higher, it does. We will not give up on cars, and we will not give up on sports cars. … The F-Type is the soul, the heart, the DNA of the brand.” (It cer­tainly helps that Land Rover/Range Rover is an all-SUV propo­si­tion.)

In ad­di­tion to strong de­sign, per­for­mance is an­other area that JLR whole­heart­edly em­braces, on the road and off.

“Jaguar has a very rich and sto­ried per­for­mance his­tory,” Eber­hardt said. “Land Rover per­for­mance has a slightly dif­fer­ent def­i­ni­tion. One is the off-road ca­pa­bil­ity; that’s why we launched SVX with the Dis­cov­ery [an off-road­themed pack­age]. And we have the Range Rover Sport SVR, which is proof that you can also build a per­for­mance SUV.”

Eber­hardt also sees room for elec­tric power to be a part of the per­for­mance mix. The brand has been plug­ging into go-fast elec­tri­fi­ca­tion as a ma­jor par­tic­i­pant in the al­l­elec­tric For­mula E race se­ries and will soon be of­fer­ing its i-Pace all-elec­tric SUV, which will hit deal­ers as well as the track this year through its i-Pace-only eTro­phy sup­port race for the 2018 For­mula E sea­son.

Al­though he’s high on the i-Pace—and re­ac­tion to it has been pos­i­tive thus far—Eber­hardt knows JLR has to re­main as di­ver­si­fied as pos­si­ble in the pow­er­train depart­ment, and with ad­vanced turbo-fours, diesels, and com­ing plug-ins, he be­lieves they’re well po­si­tioned. “I don’t think any­one can bet on just one tech­nol­ogy and say that’s where the fu­ture will go,” he said. “We be­lieve we shouldn’t be the ones who dic­tate what cus­tomers should be driv­ing or choos­ing. We need to ful­fill what their needs and re­quire­ments are. We be­lieve for the fore­see­able fu­ture ev­ery pow­er­train has a role to play.”

When it comes to au­ton­omy, like other au­tomak­ers JLR has been busy test­ing its self-driv­ing tech. While he sees it as in­evitable, he hopes there will be a way for­ward where we will still be able to drive our­selves. “Part of our brand ex­pe­ri­ence is the joy of driv­ing,” Eber­hardt said. “I couldn’t see my­self not driv­ing a car.”

Nei­ther can we, Joe. Nei­ther can we. AM

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