The man widely recognised for rescuing the Midlands’ biggest manufacturer from the abyss in the depths of recession has fuelled fears that the UK could lose out to Europe or the States in the vehicle maker’s future production plans.
The figurehead of the vast Indian conglomerate, who is now chairman emeritus of Tata Group, told the Post that the UK was trailing other countries in attracting factory investment.
His comments come a month after the Post revealed that JLR was looking to potential sites in Austria or Turkey for future factory development rather than the United States or the UK.
Mr Tata, who was chairman of Tata for 21 years from 1991 to 2012, told the Post at the launch of the £150 million National Automotive Centre at the University of Warwick: “There are various states in the US and countries in Eastern Europe which provide incentives.
“The UK does not do enough of that, I do not see it as enough of a major thrust. Other states in other countries are providing incentives.”
The Tata figurehead predicted that the luxury vehicle-maker had a ‘bright’ future – and said he shared his friend Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya’s vision of one million annual sales within a decade.
“Anything is possible – it is more possible when somebody says it is impossible. There is a great sense of pride in what the company is doing. I think that the future is bright but we should not run before we walk, we should grow with moderation.”
The 74-year-old said he had been persuaded to buy Jaguar Land Rover in the summer of 2008 after being given a tour of small firms in the Coventry area by well-known Midland peer Lord Bhattacharyya.
“Like everybody else, I thought there was no talent, no capability in the UK until Professor Bhattacharyya forced me to visit five or six companies. I was wide-eyed and surprised at the capability and excellence here. It was Professor Bhattacharyya who introduced me to the capabilities of small companies in the UK.”
Lord Bhattacharyya told guests at the unveiling of the foundation stone for the new automotive centre: “The NAIC will do something very special, bringing critical mass to automotive research. British firms have rarely done enough R&D. The Midlands is strewn with former manufacturing giants which failed. Even JLR stood at the point of extinction before Ratan rescued it. British R&D has struggled to achieve the critical mass that attracts business.”
Mr Tata told guests in his speech: “I had looked at the UK as being a wonderful country with a very strong service economy. I considered manufacturing to be part of the UK’s past history. Lord Bhattacharyya forced me to spend the day racing around Coventry in his daughter’s Mini Cooper. At the end of the day, I came back flabbergasted with the capabilities I saw. This was long before I looked at JLR as a company to acquire.”
Dr Wolfgang Epple, JLR’s director of research and technology, told the Post that JLR was ‘assessing different alternatives’ to increase capacity. He said: “We export some 80 per cent of our products into other markets. We want to maintain our growth and therefore we need to look at different alternatives which are closer to our customers.”
He said JLR was already running three shifts at Halewood and Solihull, leaving them unable to increase capacity at the plants.
The foundation stone ceremony marked the formal launch of the construction phase for the £150 million project, creating a new cutting-edge UK automotive technology, innovation and education centre.
The 33,000 square metre facility is due to open in spring 2017 and will become the hub for JLR’s advanced research. It will house 1,000 people, including engineers, researchers and technologists.
The development of the new NAIC facility will complement JLR’s product research and development centres in Gaydon and Whitby.