I had the pleasure of touring the new XE bodyshop and assembly line at JLR’s Solihull complex the other week. Although it’s not running at full tilt yet, it soon will be, and I suspect that it will – like the existing assembly line for Range Rover – soon be bursting at the seams. In fact, with Range Rover Sports having to be made on the same line as the XE because the original Range Rover/Range Rover Sport/Discovery line is full to the brim, the planners at JLR must be worried that they won’t be able to meet demand for all the XE, F-PACE and other upcoming models over the years.
Given the continued success of the SUVs made at Solihull, JLR will want its new £400m ($624m) bodyshop at Castle Bromwich to be up and running ASAP – and not just to make the new XF. I fully expect some XE variants to be made at Castle Bromwich as well as at Solihull; a remarkable turnaround, as it was not so long ago that JLR was considering closing Castle Bromwich. How things have changed – with a new bodyshop, revamped assembly lines and additional press capacity now being readied for production. With Halewood also running at close to full rates for the new Discovery Sport and an Evoque Convertible around the corner, all three of JLR’s UK plants will be fully occupied for the medium term.
It was not surprising therefore, with its UK facilities running out of space (or soon to do so), that JLR should announce a production agreement with Magna in Austria. There is no official word yet on what will be made there, or in what volumes, but Magna is a low-volume contract specialist. True, it has made around 100,000 Mini Countrymans a year in the recent past, but I suspect the JLR vehicles to be made there will be electric vehicles based on the Evoque, probably including a Jaguar model as well, to help with both brands’ sales profiles in California especially. There may also be a conventionally powered small Jaguar SUV (an E-PACE perhaps, a restyled version of the Evoque), though JLR may manage to squeeze this out of Halewood.
Whatever the volumes to be made in Austria, a further all-new JLR plant in continental Europe, probably in Poland, maybe in Slovakia, should be announced any day now. Again, it’s open to debate as to what JLR will make there, but my hunch is that this site will turn out smaller models than are made in the UK and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were based on the existing steel platform underpinning the Evoque/Discovery Sport rather than the aluminium platform of the XE. Once this plant is confirmed, don’t expect that to be the end of JLR’s international expansion.
A JV factory is already open in China, a CKD plant is under construction in Brazil and a number of UK suppliers have told me that they and their local partners are ready to supply JLR in India as soon as the Pune facility moves to full manufacture from low-volume CKD. And this is all before JLR goes to the US, which it will do before too long.