Over the past few years, an extended upswing in sales has helped reshape the automotive landscape, driving new product development and the technology that goes along with it. But JLR's reinvention over that time has been one of the most transformative stories in the industry, as the company has quickly fleshed out a barren portfolio with new, compelling vehicles for both the Jaguar and Land Rover brands.
Still, with the increasing emphasis on efficiency and the growing consumer demand for crossovers and SUVs, the next few years will play a crucial role in defining both brands as they seek to maintain their own unique identities while incorporating semi-autonomous tech and electrification, two technologies which are often at odds with driver engagement and overall dynamics.
I recently sat down with Larson to talk about how the company has changed in recent years, what the forecast is going into the future, and how performance and efficiency can coexist.
EC: Over the past year, Jaguar launched several particularly important models in the United States. Can you give us a sense of how these new vehicles are helping to shape the brand, and what the forecast looks like for Jaguar going forward?
DL: To answer that question properly, let me just back things up a bit. Two years ago we made a commitment that we called "The Next Generation Jaguar", and it was our commitment to offer additional products, more competitive pricing and, most importantly, to offer a best-in-class vehicle coverage package that we call Elite Care.
When we launched this initiative, we only had three models — XF, XJ and F-Type. Since then, we're introduced the XE, the F-Pace — which has already gone on to become our number one seller — and we just launched the XF Sportbrake. We also introduced the E-Pace and showed off the I-Pace production concept, which will go on sale in mid-2018.
So we're following through on that commitment we made two years ago, and we're seeing huge growth in sales as a result. In 2016 Jaguar was the fastest growing luxury brand in the US, and I'm happy to report that Jaguar sales are up 40% year over year. So everything's falling into place.
EC: Can you elaborate a bit about what the focus will be looking into the next few years? What's the general strategy for Jaguar?
DL: The general strategy is identifying white spaces, and that's what we've been doing for a while now. Two years ago we didn't have an SUV, but we saw the need for it, we saw where the market was going, and we introduced the F-Pace. Then we looked at the compact SUV segment, saw the huge growth there and wanted to be a part of it, so we launched the E-Pace.
We're always looking at what white spaces are available that we're currently not completing in. We calculate the business case and decide whether it makes sense to pursue it. But most importantly, each vehicle that we do introduce stays true to the Jaguar DNA in terms of styling and on-road performance.
EC: With Jaguar now making SUVs and LR/RR making high performance road SUVs, how do you differentiate the two? What are the specific qualities that separate the cars, especially if they will share platforms?
DL: It really goes back to what the brand stands for. So with Jaguar it's the Art of Performance — a focus on styling and on-road capability. For Land Rover, the positioning statement is Above and Beyond — capability with composure.
The two are very different. Let's take the Jaguar F-Pace and the Range Rover Velar. The F-Pace keeps a very on-road focus, even in the interior. I love listening to our chief designer Ian Callum talk about when he is designing an interior and how it's always focused on the driver, and controls are placed in such a way that make it very intuitive for the driver.
For Gerry McGovern at Land Rover, it's more about modern reduction. With the InControl Touch Pro Duo system, for instance, the layout is very simple — you have two ten-inch screens and three dials on the center console.
So there's two completely different approaches that are really driven by what each brand represents. As long as we stay consistent with that approach, I think you're going to see very little cross-shopping between the two brands, and that's how we plan to keep them separate.
EC: Several luxury manufacturers are quickly "refining" all the personality out of their vehicles. JLR seems to be bucking that trend, and if anything, are making more character-filled vehicles. Does that transition somehow into the new autonomous world, or do the current cars splinter off into enthusiast-focused vehicles, and a product line of electrified and semi-autonomous vehicles become the main stream products?
DL: So, yeah — big question. [laughs] As far as the overall design of the Jaguar vehicles, I think it was Enzo Ferrari who said the E-Type was the prettiest car ever produced. That is what Ian's focus is for each derivative that he's producing. So in the case of the E-Pace, we could have just made a small F-Pace, and that car is not. When you look at the details of that car, it may share a similar silhouette, but the E-Pace really has its own identity.
Its nickname was "The Cub", and if you look at elements like the headlamps and the grille, they actually share more in common with the F-Type. And in the interior, the grab handle also comes right over from the F-Type. So the E-Pace pulls a number of the styling elements from the F-Type, and the driving ability of that car also is vastly different from typical SUVs because of its on-road performance focus.
In regards to the autonomy, there is a move in that direction. I think our role in that is providing the assistant systems to the driver. So a Jaguar will remain a driver-focused car, but we will continue to offer semi-autonomous features like the emergency braking system, so in case the driver doesn't see an object, the system can step in if needed. But at this point the direction is to offer the assistant systems to the driver, but allow the driver to keep doing the driving.
EC: Do you see electrified vehicles becoming a significant element of the performance lineup in the coming years, or will the more conventional power train setups simply exist apart from the mainstream offerings?
DL: Well electrification offers huge advantages with regards to acceleration — you can have one hundred percent of torque instantly. So on the I-Pace for example, you see 0-60 times of about four and a half seconds, so incredible performance, but the car's not just designed to go in a straight line, it's going to have great handling characteristics as well.
EC: With electrification becoming part bigger part of the overall strategy, can you give us an idea of how that might affect SVO development? What's going to be the philosophy going into the future as CAFE and emissions standards continue to go up?
DL: Today, when you think of SV, whether it's SVR, SVA, or SVX, it's always at an additional horsepower. It's usually based on a V8, and typically outputs 500+ horsepower. As we look to the future, SV is always about elevating the current offering a Jaguar or Land Rover. So if a full battery-electric vehicle like the I-Pace wore a nameplate from SV, it would feature additional horsepower.
EC: Do you see a roadmap for electric vehicles like the I-Pace to potentially carry an SV badge in the future?
DL: In philosophy, what SV does is take existing platforms and power trains and elevate them. So whether it's a plug-in hybrid, a BEV, or a mild hybrid, they would elevate [the vehicle's performance] from that. The I-Pace eTrophy is built by SVO, and that serves as a great example of how SVO can take an electrified production vehicle and tweak it to increase performance.
EC: On the other end of the spectrum, what does JLR's strategy look like for meeting the upcoming CAFE and emissions regulations?
DL: We're looking at every potential solution in order to reach those compliance goals. We're even looking into things like IR privacy glass — you get CAFE credits for that, along with features like Start/Stop systems. So it's not just about PHEV and battery-electric vehicles, it's also about all those technologies you can add to an existing vehicle to make it more efficient, and we're doing that in every vehicle in our lineup.
EC: Is there an emphasis on any particular type of technology to reach those efficiency goals?
DL: To me it really comes down to a question of what the customers' driving habits are, because those driving habits are going to dictate what they purchase. If someone has a ten mile commute back and forth to work and they can charge while they're there, a plug-in hybrid would be a fantastic vehicle for them. But if someone has long distances to travel regularly, I would recommend a diesel. So there are a lot of different preferences and requirements. From my point of view, the best power train strategy is a diversified one.