London, Sept. 10: Ratan Tata won high praise today as Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover announced £1.5 billion of new investment in the car manufacturer’s plant in Solihull in the Midlands and the creation of an extra 1,700 jobs and “thousands more in the supply chain”.
Along with the upbeat announcement, a new expression — “the new aluminium architecture” — slipped into the lexicon of the automotive industry.
In simple language, what this means is that a new SUV-type car that JLR is to build will have a chassis made from aluminium, making the vehicle much lighter and hence less heavy on petrol consumption.
JLR has also unveiled a concept car called the C-X17, which is halfway between a sports car and an SUV, and could also be based on the new chassis.
The announcements were all made at the Motor Show in Frankfurt but JLR’s German-born chief executive, Ralf Speth, gave an interview to BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme to explain the significance of the investment.
“Good news for the car industry” was how the item was introduced by the interviewer but half way through discussing the technical details of the new model, Speth was asked: “It seems the moment Ford (of the US ) sold Jaguar Land Rover to India’s Tata group (in 2008), it took off and was an enormous success. Is this a coincidence? What happened?”
Speth, who used to work for Germany’s BMW, made it clear that the change in fortune was most emphatically not a coincidence.
“I guess Ratan Tata had got a vision — and a belief in the brand,” responded Speth. “And he invested his personal money and also then made sure JLR could be alive. And he gives us the freedom to do both — restructuring but also growth simultaneously in order to get leading edge results.”
The interviewer signed off: “Well, excellent news, I am sure, for the British automotive industry.”
JLR has created 11,000 new jobs in the last three years.
When a company does well, it is regarded as “British”. It comes “Indian” when there are problems. Ratan Tata has been wise not to mess with JLR’s quintessential Britishness.
Business secretary Vince Cable said: “Jaguar Land Rover has been experiencing great success over the last couple of years but this ground-breaking project takes Jaguar on to the next level. This all-aluminium architecture project typifies the type of innovative and high-value R&D that the UK excels in and the government is supporting through the automotive industrial strategy.”
Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, commented: “JLR is a great British success story, and this new investment in jobs and skills ought to maintain its global reputation for world-class vehicles. The UK workforce, with their skills and dedication, are at the heart of this success. This investment is their due reward and we are delighted that JLR has committed further to Britain.”
The boost was also welcomed by Prime Minister David Cameron as another strong sign of a growing economy.
The problem, however, is that the British government speaks habitually with forked tongue. The home office is run by the ambitious Theresa May who has made it difficult for intra-company transfers to take place because of increasingly rigorous visa rules.