Jaguar is booking advance orders for its new flagship XJ from potential buyers who have not even seen the car.
And with full-scale production of the XJ due to start in the autumn, the company is restricting the annual shutdown of the Castle Bromwich plant in Birmingham to two weeks in order to prepare for anticipated high volumes.
The factory also needs to keep running to meet continuing demand for the successful XF mid-range car – particularly the popular new 3-litre diesel variant, the company said yesterday.
The summer shutdown at Land Rover’s Lode Lane factory at Solihull will also be restricted to two weeks – compared with the traditional three weeks – as the lines gear up to produce new variants of the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Discovery.
Jaguar Land Rover’s comments contradicted a claim by the Sunday Times that the company was drawing up plans for a prolonged summer shutdown as sales remain depressed by the global recession.
Spokesman Don Hume said yesterday it was too early to say whether demand for the XJ, which was officially unveiled at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea last Thursday night, would match the levels generated by the XF last year which saw the order book filled for months in advance.
“But there has been very strong initial interest in the new car, including some customers trying to place orders sight unseen,” he said.
“The order book has only just opened but we are now ramping up for the XJ at Castle Bromwich as well as for the new models at Solihull.
“We are also transferring 300 people from Solihull to Castle Bromwich to support XJ production,” Mr Hume said.
While Castle Bromwich and Lode Lane gear up to produce new models, there is uncertainty about the future of Jaguar Land Rover’s third factory, at Halewood on Merseyside, which currently produces the Jaguar X Type and the Freelander 2.
The site is widely believed to be at risk following comments from Ravi Kant, vice-president of JLR’s Indian owner, Tata Motors, in the wake of figures showing that JLR lost more than £280 million in the last ten months of the financial year to March 2009.
Tata has already axed nearly 2,000 jobs across the three JLR plants, cut production volumes, temporarily shut plants and imposed a pay freeze in response to the global slump in sales.
Mr Kant, who is closely involved with JLR’s operations, warned in June that further job cuts and “more such” plant closures could occur unless demand for its vehicles improves.
Tata says Mr Kant was referring to temporary shutdowns, but his remarks have been interpreted as suggesting that Halewood – which was converted to Jaguar production in 2000 after decades of making the high volume Ford Escort – could close. Tata yesterday said it would not comment on “speculation”, but the Birmingham Post understands that no decision on either a temporary or permanent shutdown will be made until the autumn at the earliest.
The belief within the automotive industry is that Tata is content to let rumours circulate in an attempt to bring its long-running negotiations to win aid from the UK Government in the form of commercial loans or loan guarantees to a successful conclusion.
Halewood’s case could be weakened by the fact that the X Type – an unsuccessful attempt by Ford to broaden Jaguar’s appeal in that volume car market – will almost certainly not be replaced, leaving the factory with just one model, the Freelander 2.
If Tata does decide the shut the site it would have to renegotiate a £27 million grant from the Government toward the estimated £300 million cost of putting the planned Range Rover-badged LRX low carbon concept car into production. A condition of the loan is that the car would be produced at Halewood.