A significant milestone for one of Land Rover’s most successful model, the Discovery, marks a massive turnaround in fortunes for the car maker, writes Enda Mullen.
Not that long ago Jaguar Land Rover was scaling back production, trying to secure government loans and talking about closing a plant.
Now, little more than two years down the line, the Indian-owned luxury car maker has seen its millionth Discovery roll off the production line with a glitzy celebration attended by many of the 2,500 workers at Solihull’s Lode Lane.
Some of the UK’s best known explorers and adventurers were also there to pay their respects to a vehicle that has seen them through many an expedition.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Bear Grylls, Monty Halls and Ben Saunders joined in the celebrations as the Discovery was unveiled and lined up alongside an original Land Rover Series 1 and the very first Discovery built in 1983.
The landmark was hailed by Alan Volkaerts, director of operations at the Solihull factory, as a sign of just how far Jaguar Land Rover had come in its recent history – a transformation many might not have expected during the recession.
“Not that many years ago, in the depths of the recession we were taking a shift off and slowing down,” he said.
“It’s a real testament to our products that four years later we are talking about growth and the future.”
Speaking about investment plans across Jaguar Land Rover he added: “We have said we are going to launch our most ambitious growth plan with 40 products over five years.
“We are right at the beginning of that plan and it is a fitting way to look forward to the future.
“We will invest £1.5 billion a year for the next five years and Solihull will get several hundreds of millions of pounds of that in terms of new buildings and infrastructure.
“As we reflect on the success of Jaguar Land Rover we look to the future and it is a future in which Solihull has a vitally important role to play.”
Mr Volkaerts said the plant was approaching the final stages of a recruitment drive to fill 1,000 new jobs at Solihull. The plant now employs 6,000 people.
Looking back on the original model, which was a key player in the establishment of the sports utility vehicle (SUV) segment, Mr Volkaerts said: “In 1989 the original Discovery was launched and it created a whole new segment in the market And after 23 years of product innovation and continuous improvements in manufacturing the Discovery4 is now the most capable and versatile SUV in the world – bar none.
“In all the Discovery family of vehicles has won an incredible 200 international awards.
“Our cars have never been more popular across the whole planet than they are today.”
Ralf Speth, chief executive officer of Jaguar Land Rover said as the company looked forward the focus was on exports, particularly in emerging markets.
He also welcomed a 16 per cent increase in Discovery sales – in 2011 almost 45,000 vehicles were sold in 170 countries.
“Exports and overseas markets matter more and more these days,” he said. “With the original Discovery 70 per cent of sales were in the UK but for the Discovery4 more than 80 per cent are exported. That is typical of the change in our business.”
Perhaps with half an eye on the importance of emerging markets the one millionth Discovery has embarked on an overland expedition from Birmingham to Beijing, reliving the pioneering First Overland Expedition in 1955 when a group of Series 1 Land Rovers travelled overland from Birmingham to Singapore – Beijing was not an option then for political reasons.
Phil Popham, group sales operations director for Land Rover said: “With their one millionth vehicle most manufacturers would retire it in a museum but we are not like any other car manufacturer.
“This 50-day expedition will visit 13 countries and travel 8,000 miles and we are using it to launch our most ambitious fundraising drive ever. We want to raise a million pounds for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.”
Money raised from the expedition will fund a project to provide clean water in Uganda.
Land Rover global brand director John Edwards added: “It will be an extraordinary journey for an extraordinary example of an amazing car.”
The car will be stopping off at the Geneva Motor Show en route and also making an appearance at a British Embassy event in Moscow, before ultimately going on display at the Beijing Motor Show on April 23.
The expedition will consist of three Discovery4s driven by experts from the Land Rover Experience centre.
The vehicles are all Russian-spec left-hand-drive models and as such equipped to deal with the worst weather conditions that might be encountered in the many former Soviet states they will travel through. The celebrity adventurers who attended the Discovery celebrations all paid tribute to the Discovery, including Ray Mears, who said: “The Discovery is the best car in my opinion on the planet. It is just the most amazing vehicle and the best four-by-four by far.”