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Auto blogThu, 30 Oct 2014 16:30:00 EST
The heads of Jaguar Land Rover are having a busy couple of weeks opening factories. Just days after inaugurating the company's first overseas plant in China, the automaker's new Engine Manufacturing Center in the UK is being inaugurated, as well. The plant near Wolverhampton, England, marks the first time in decades that JLR is building its own powerplants in-house. Further signaling the importance of this launch for the business, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were on hand and even tweeted about it.
The factory's first major project is to build JLR's latest Ingenium four-cylinders, starting with the 2.0-liter diesel version. "Our new Engine Manufacturing Centre is an important step in advancing the competitiveness and capability of the UK automotive sector. The production of in-house engines will support the expansion of the UK supply chain providing critical mass for inward investment," said Trevor Leeks, plant operations director in the automaker's announcement.
Opening the doors to the Engine Manufacturing Center has been years in the making for JLR. The plant was first announced in September 2011 and broke ground in June 2012. Building it cost the company 500 million pounds ($800 million) and created 1,400 new jobs. Of course, being a state-of-the-art factory, considerations were made to make the place as energy efficient as possible. That meant installing the UK's largest solar array with 21,000 panels to produce about 30 percent of the site's electricity needs.
It's hard to think back now, but the same man overseeing the design of the 2013 Ford Fusion also presided over a rather lackluster period in Ford design, highlighted by vehicles like the Five Hundred and Freestyle. With the redesigned Fusion receiving high praise, J Mays tells Automotive News that he feels vindicated from criticisms suggesting he's not a daring enough designer.
When Mays took over as lead of design in 1997, he admits to having quite an ego ("My head would barely fit through the door some days. I've long since gotten over myself") and the workload to match. With the Blue Oval's portfolio full of premium brands like Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo at that point, along with the bread-and-butter Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models, Mays certainly had quite the challenge.
It was in the mid-2000s that Mays took over just the premium brands, and took on the new title of Chief Creative Officer. At the time, Mays endured some criticism for looking backwards to retro styling, rather than setting a new standard for American car design - criticism that Mays says he is free from with the all-new Fusion.
Brazil is the place to be, apparently. Toyota has been investing in the South American country, as has BMW, which announced a $261 million investment in October 2012, on the heels of an Audi factory announcement in San José Chiapa. The high-end immigration is only set to continue, as Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar-Land Rover have both announced plans to set up manufacturing operations there.
Mercedes is the big news here, as its new facility will see the German manufacturer invest 170-million euros for production of its next-generation C-Class and upcoming GLA-Class. "Brazil is an important future market. With our local production we accept the challenge and take on the competition," noted Andreas Renschler, Management Board member for Production and Procurement at Mercedes-Benz Cars and Mercedes-Benz Vans. Production is expected to begin by 2016.
Jaguar-Land Rover, meanwhile, isn't so concrete in its plans. The news of its investment in South America comes from a job posting for a plant quality manager in Brazil that was picked up by the UK's AutoCar. "Portuguese language skills will be definite advantage" for interested candidates, according to the job listing. The want ad follows on the heels of remarks by Jaguar Land Rover's Dr. Ralph Speth, who said there are "very intensive discussions" with Brazil's government. Unlike Mercedes, there's no mention of which vehicles will be produced in South America, although AutoCar thinks the Freelander, sold in the US as the LR2, is a leading contender.