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New Jaguars set to roll off Land Rover line

For decades Castle Bromwich has been the home of Jaguar and Solihull has been the home of Land Rover, but it is all set to change, Enda Mullen reveals

Newspress
The Jaguar C-X17 SUV concept

The massive expansion of the Midlands’ biggest manufacturer will mean Jaguars will be built at the historic Land Rover plant in Solihull for the first time.

Jaguar production has been an exclusively Castle Bromwich affair since the closure of Browns Lane in Coventry, but that will all change after a massive recruitment drive in Solihull.

The next Jaguar – a lightweight aluminium compact saloon to rival the BMW 3 Series when it is launched in 2015 – will be built in Solihull and could be followed by a Jaguar SUV in due course.

Given the importance of aluminium in the structure of the new Jaguar, Mike Gould, former Defender brand manager and public relations manager for Land Rover who spent much of his working life at Solihull, feels Solihull is a fitting home for it, given Land Rover’s historic association with the metal.

“Aluminium was chosen for the original Land Rover thanks to its numerous benefits so it’s fitting that Solihull’s future has been assured by the latest techniques in using the material,” he said.

He added: “While it’s been an exclusive Land Rover plant for nearly 30 years, Solihull was home to car production too for the 40 years before that but it’s somewhat ironic that it’s returning in the shape of a car from one-time rival Jaguar.

“Nevertheless it’s great news for Solihull, which was under threat of closure a relatively short time ago.

"There’s no doubt that the revival in the fortunes of Jaguar Land Rover and the British motor industry in general in due in large degree to the vehicles rolling off the Solihull production lines so everyone involved should be really proud of their achievements.”

The Lode Lane plant in Solihull now produces the Defender, Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Discovery models.

Graham Searle, general manager of the Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club, believes the move is fitting and something Jaguar founder William Lyons would approve of.

“I think most Jaguar enthusiasts will be pleased to see them being built in England as it is the home of Jaguar, there’s the spiritual aspect,” he said. “Sir William Lyons would be proud if he was around today. He was first and foremost a businessman. He had a wonderful eye and produced beautiful cars but they were there to sell.

“He would be guided by where the best place is to make the product. I expect there is no room to put it in Castle Bromwich and this is probably the best economic option. They have got good staff there I am sure the business case makes a great amount of sense.”

Mr Searle said his club would welcome owners of the new Jaguar compact saloon.

“If it is medium range below the XF that makes it that much more affordable,” he said. “The more people that buy Jaguars the happier we are.

“BMW have built their name with a very nice medium size saloon with the 3 Series and I imagine that is where JLR want to be but with a car with the performance, kudos and heritage of a Jaguar.

“One thing Jaguar has over the others is a great British history and a racing history.”

He added that the potential the new car could offer to the firm’s ever-improving fortunes could not be under-estimated.

“Jaguar has moved a long way and chief designer Ian Callum has worked wonders,” he said. “The current F-Type catches all the headlines but it is the XF that is making the money.

“It was very similar in the sixties, while the E-Type grabbed the headlines the saloons made the money.

“Saloons keep the business ticking over and build for the future.”

Lode Lane began life 75 years ago as a ‘shadow factory’ designed to make aircraft engines in what was then a rural location away from the city centres that were expected to be bombed – something that came about when the Rover factory in Coventry was destroyed in the infamous raid on the city in November 1940.

Rover ran the Solihull plant as “shadow factory number two” during the war, producing the Bristol Hercules radial aircraft engine that was actually more powerful than the famous Rolls Royce Merlin. The development of the Whittle jet engine was also done on the site, Rover producing a more advanced design.

The Rover Company moved its production to Solihull after the war, and following an established Rover tradition took the name Meteor Works.

The birth of Land Rover came about in the wake of the war as a vehicle designed to rival the famous American Jeep, and also earn valuable export dollars.

Rover’s Wilks brothers developed the Land-Rover utility vehicle in just a few months and it entered production in 1948.

It rapidly overtook its car siblings and has been rolling off the assembly lines ever since changing its name to Defender in 1991.

Since then the Land Rover line-up has seen the introduction of four generations of the Range Rover, three generations of the Discovery and Range Rover Sport. The first generation of the Land Rover Freelander was built at Solihull while the second generation moved to Halewood in Merseyside to be later joined by the Range Rover Evoque.

Despite its association with four-wheel-drive vehicles the Solihull plant also built cars too.

Many post-war Rover models were built in the original wartime factory before the volumes anticipated for the Rover 2000 of the 1960s demanded the construction of the North Works site.

Further expansion came with the introduction of the Rover 3500 range in the 1970s in another new facility, East Works, with the building of these new areas being made easier by the foresight of the Rover management in the 1940s when they bought farmland surrounding the original site.

Solihull became an exclusive Land Rover site in the 1980s, with the old East Works becoming a press and body shop while North Works was reconfigured to make engines as well as being a home to Range Rover and Freelander production. A new high tech stamping plant was installed when the company was owned by BMW, supplying panels to the MINI among other products.

Outside of Rover and Land Rover vehicles the only other vehicle built there was the Triumph TR-7 sportscar for a time.

Automotive historian Martyn Nutland also welcomed the “excellent news” of a Jaguar being built in Solihull.

“It’s always good news to learn of an expansion in the country’s manufacturing industry and especially gratifying when that growth comes in what was once our great motor industry,” he said.

However, Mr Nutland also believes Jaguar will need to be firing on all cylinders in a bid to compete with established brands like BMW, Audi and Mercedes.

“I think JLR may have their work cut out with this one,” he said. “Traditionally there have been entry level Jaguars. For example, way back in 1949 with the 1.5 litre and then in 1955 with a 2.4. But this was at a time when a very large sector of the market aspired to a Jag – the XK120 and its siblings were a sensation and the 50s were the glory days for Jaguar at Le Mans.

“I think we always need to keep in sight that reputation, that ethos, is at least a generation ago.

“The new compact Jaguar saloon will go out to compete with the smaller BMWs, Audis, Mercedes all of whom have impressive reputations across Europe for being excellent, desirable cars, simply in their own right.

“I think that’s a tough basis on which to compete in 2014.”

 

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