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Autonomy trumped by flesh and blood: JLR

In your hands: JLR is looking at the potential of driverless technology, but says human/machine interaction is a critical part of its brand mission statement.

Jaguar Land Rover puts driving involvement before self-driving technology

8 Feb 2016

WHILE many mainstream automotive brands furiously compete to be first to release an autonomous production model, Jaguar Land Rover is pursuing the driverless holy grail less vehemently.

The Indian-owned British car-maker has not completely abstained from autonomous research and has recently released details of a London trial that aims to mimic human traits in self-driving vehicles, but a majority of the company's development continues in the fields of dynamics and high performance.

Speaking at the media launch of the all-new XF sedan last week, JLR Australia managing director Matthew Wiesner told GoAuto the company would be honouring its heritage as a manufacturer of driver's vehicles by continuing to focus on dynamics.

“We have products and brands that are, quite frankly, emotive brands and are brands that you want to drive, so how do you translate that into a potential trend of autonomy at some stage in the future?” he said.

“Where you take that technology? It doesn't suit us. Why would we do it? Our role is to be a dynamic brand that goes hard, drives well and looks great. It's not a car you don't drive.”

Mr Wiesner explained that by the very nature of the company's off-road vehicles, the driver is an essential part of guiding the vehicle as is the case on-road in the company's high-performance Jaguar models.

“The whole reasoning behind why you drive a Land Rover and where you want to take it means you have to drive it, so everything we stand for is very emotive, very passionate and about being intimately involved in the brand.

“They are not inexpensive products and part of that is we are selling an experience. If you disconnect that and make people sit there and it (the car) does the job, where is the experience.”

JLR's key rivals such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi have been far more determined and public about their development of autonomous vehicles, but Mr Wiesner said manufacturers who trade on the performance of their vehicles should tread carefully with the technology.

“It's an interesting conundrum for premium and especially performance-type brands because everything you target to dial up the senses is negated by autonomy.

“As we head beyond the next decade, as things become potentially more commoditised, some products in our industry will become just items of transport and as brands they start to loose what they stand for.

“You have to be very careful how you want to be seen. What do we want to look like in ten or 15 years time? Over the next 20 years brand will be absolutely key in everything we do.”

For now, Jaguar and Land Rover will continue to promote their range of vehicles as driver-focused options, but Mr Wiesner agreed that some development of self-driving technology was relevant.

“The technology is going to evolve and, with all brands you will need to have some involvement in that space, but our focus is very much on emotion. Jaguar's role is for people to be involved in that car, not sitting there to not drive it. Range Rover is the same.”

In October last year, GoAuto reported JLR chief executive Ralf Speth as saying the company would be the first to offer a model that can drive itself off-road, but it is understood that while the model would use autonomous tech, the system would be intended more as an option for steering the vehicle from outside the cabin.

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