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Tata is tops Down Under

Locked in: Tata likes the Jaguar and Land Rover future model plans. Jaguar XF (left) lobs later this month while Land Rover LRX (right) is due in 2010.

The more things change the more they stay the same for Jaguar Land Rover Australia

Land Rover logo1 Apr 2008

JAGUAR and Land Rover in Australia have been assured that there will be no immediate or short-term changes in their operations following last week’s announcement of a $US2.3 billion takeover by Indian industrial giant Tata.

In an interview with GoAuto this week, Jaguar Land Rover Australia managing director David Blackhall said that customers, dealers and its 48 employees would see no change and that the company will even continue to share an office with Volvo Car Australia, which remains under the Ford umbrella.

He said that management has been told that Tata likes the company’s future model plans and will be sticking with the scheduled roll-out, starting with the vital new XF sedan later this month and a new-look X-Type next year.

He also downplayed any suggestion that the Indian company would look for cheaper third-world suppliers, saying that Mr Tata himself is committed to the “Britishness” of the brands and that long-term agreements are in place for major items such as engines and drivetrains.

“It’s very early days in terms of the process,” Mr Blackhall told GoAuto. “But in terms of the local operation, it’s very much a focus on business as usual.

“We’ve had assurances from the Tata Group that they are non-interventionist, non-integrationist owners. They like to buy businesses and they like to engage with the professional management of those businesses to run the business.

“They have made statements that they like our business plan, they like our product plan and I think they will throw their weight behind delivering those plans.

“Mr Tata has said that he is committed to the Britishness of the brand and they are committed to the manufacturing footprint in the UK.

“The reality of the car business today is that parts do flow from countries all over the world and are assembled in countries all over the world, but I think you can take it as read that, no matter what happens, Tata will continue to manufacture Jaguars and Land Rovers in Britain and I think that’s what really matters to the brand.

“I’m very positive about the future of both brands under this ownership – I think it will be great.”

 center imageLeft: Jaguar Land Rover Australia managing director David Blackhall.

Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles will continue to be physically imported into Australia and distributed nationally by an entity called Premier Automotive Group Australia Pty Ltd, which Mr Blackhall insisted “actually has nothing to do with Premier Automotive Group as such”.

Not only will Jaguar Land Rover continue to share its North Ryde office with Volvo, but also back-office systems such as human resources, IT, accounting and finance that were merged under Ford’s PAG banner.

“Down the track, it might be that our new owners have different views and it might be that Ford and Volvo have different views, but at the local level here in Australia, (Volvo Australia managing director) Alan Desselss and I have agreed that there’s no need to deconstruct something that’s working quite efficiently.” Mr Blackhall is a long-standing friend of Jaguar Land Rover’s global CEO, expatriate Australian Geoff Polites, and is confident that he will remain at the helm under its new owners for some time, despite a recent bout with cancer.

“I believe Geoff has been asked by Mr Tata himself to continue on and head up the company and I believe that’s his plan,” said Mr Blackhall.

“The last time I spoke to him he was very much of the view, ‘I want to stick around and make sure this transition goes really well’. He didn’t put a date on it but, if his health continues to be good, I reckon he’ll be around for quite a while.

“The Geoff Polites I know is a pretty passionate guy, very committed to the business, very committed to his team. I reckon he’d be doing it for as long as he could do it.” Mr Polites, a former Ford Australia president, is expected in Australia soon for the birth of a grandchild.

Mr Blackhall “absolutely” expects Jaguar design chief Ian Callum, whose work has been widely praised in recent years, will also remain.

“The last time I spoke to Ian, which was at the Detroit show (in January), he was totally committed and very much involved in the future of the brand, so I reckon he’s a big part of the team,” said Mr Blackhall.

He pointed to the fact that Mr Callum had made some “fairly pointed comments about being able to move the design language forward” without Ford’s influence as an indication that the design guru views the Tata takeover as a positive step.

However, Mr Blackhall – a career Ford man – says that the Blue Oval has been very good for Jaguar and Land Rover, introducing much-needed quality and systems to the British icons, and also helping with their identity.

“Ford has really put the engineering and product development cycle on a strong footing for Jaguar and Land Rover. I think Ford have been good owners of the brands from that point of view, so there’s a strong base to work with there.

“But one of the really nice things for Jaguar is it now understands itself so much more in terms of the niche premium strategy that Jaguar’s really got to have. It’s a margin play and it’s a unique play in that it’s beautiful fast cars from Britain – not German, not Japanese, not trying to be a clone of something else.

“I think that Ford has tremendous skills in the engineering and production areas. They have systemised Jaguar’s and Land Rover’s production facilities to the point where you can rely on the quality. They’ve got product development processes and systems that are replicatable, deliverable, you know what your development cycle is going to be like and you are able to develop platforms and products with definable cost parameters and so on.

“I think Ford injected those kinds of disciplines into both brands that perhaps weren’t there under previous ownership.

“At the same time, particularly in Jaguar’s case, we learnt that there’s a niche for this brand and if you occupy it the right way it’s an extremely profitable niche.

“Ford’s a big company and in some respects these two small brands needed that big template thrown over them so that things could get organised. That was a huge legacy that Ford brought to the table.

“But I believe that (new Ford chief) Alan Mulally has called it exactly right for Ford – the North American business has to be fixed and it’s a great time to be handing these brands on with good futures, in good shape, good investment plans and so on, to an owner who wants to see them grow and flourish,” he said.

Although he has not spoken directly with anyone from Tata, Mr Blackhall has been kept abreast of developments since the sale was first mooted nine months ago.

Later this month he will join all the national heads from around the world in a meeting in the UK with Mr Polites, but does not expect to meet anyone from Tata because the financial details of the takeover will not be concluded for another few months.

“I’ve received no plans to meet directly with the Tata people and I’d be very surprised if that happened, but we’ll get an update and a briefing from our leaders on what the plans are going forward,” he said.

“Over time, probably six to 12 months, we’ll have some sort of contact and reporting structures and so on, but the messages we’re getting out of our leaders in the UK, and certainly from the people at Tata, is business as usual, we want to retain the structures and the management teams we’ve got in place and we want a smooth and effective and profitable transition.

“For our customers, they have the same dealers, the same warranty, same parts back-up, same service, cars will come from the same plants – I can’t see how it will affect anybody.

“We were expecting a few calls from customers perhaps worried about the change of ownership, but we’ve had very little.

“There was a bit of (negative perception) very early on when the Tata name was first mooted, then I think people – certainly in the business community – got to grips with who Tata are and the nature of the company, how well run it is, how well resourced it is, the quality of the management, and quickly realised you are dealing with a very professional, world-class operation.”

Read more:

Official: Ford sells Jag, Land Rover

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