FRANKFURT -- Jaguar Land Rover is on the verge of unprecedented changes. The company that used to make nearly all its vehicles in the United Kingdom now has a plant in China and plans to open factories in Brazil and Slovakia. It also will hand over some production to Magna Steyr's plant in Graz, Austria.
In addition, Land Rover will not be the only brand in the family with entries in the crossover/SUV segment; Jaguar will launch its first crossover, the F-Pace, next year.
Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth, 60, says both of the big moves will help the automaker. He explained why in an interview with Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri last month at the Frankfurt auto show.
Q: Is Jaguar Land Rover at risk of becoming less British and less premium by expanding its footprint to China, Brazil and Slovakia, and increasing its sales to an estimated 1 million from more than 450,000 last year?
A: At JLR we do not plan for the sake of volume. We want to achieve a sustainable, profitable growth. Jaguars and Land Rovers will have the same quality and technical content no matter where we build them. What is crucial is that the heart and the soul -- the engineering and the design capabilities -- will always be in the U.K. We will have local development departments [in the non-U.K. markets] and use feedback from customers so we can best translate their requirements to our core engineering teams in the U.K.
Analysts say Land Rov-er's profits have offset Jaguar's losses during its recent lean years. When will Jaguar be profitable on its own?
We don't separate the Jaguar and Land Rover brands. We are one company. As in each company, you have a line that is more profitable than the other. What is important is that we deliver a good result for the company as a whole.
Last year, Jaguar Land Rover sold one Jaguar for every three Land Rovers. Will sales become more balanced?
Land Rover, based on its bigger base, will remain larger than Jaguar. We have a certain opportunity to fix and flex in between the products.
Does Jaguar Land Rover worry that the Jaguar F-Pace will cannibalize sales of some Land Rovers, especially when both brands are sold in so many showrooms around the world?
We have to make sure that as one company we can offer customers a complete product portfolio: very capable SUVs on the Land Rover side and passenger cars and crossovers on the Jaguar side. When a customer goes into our showrooms, he can really choose and there's hardly any overlap.
The company sees no overlap between an F-Pace and a Range Rover Evoque?
None at all. They are different concepts, have different attributes, different specifications and also come from different brands. It's like a discussion between someone who prefers vanilla ice cream and someone who prefers chocolate. It's just a matter of taste.
What will differentiate an F-Pace customer from an Evoque buyer?
It's a matter of size, of driveability, of what do you really want to do with the vehicles. I don't think you should say it's either the one or the other. It could be that one is for the wife and one for the husband so the family can really buy both.
Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche have or are considering battery-powered entries. Will Jaguar Land Rover join soon?
Not at the moment. I'm absolutely convinced that an electric machine is an interesting concept, but I'm concerned by the current state of battery technology. We are still far from an ideal ratio of energy density and weight of the batteries -- not to mention their cost.
Jaguar Land Rover's competitors promise a battery range of 311 miles on a single charge. Is that insufficient for Jaguar Land Rover?
The range is not the core issue. You can achieve any range you want with electric vehicles. It's only a question of how many battery stacks you will have and how many kilograms you will carry around. A 2.4-ton [electric] sedan is not an environmentally friendly vehicle.
The issue is that the output of the battery has to become better.
What level of performance will batteries need to become interesting for Jaguar Land Rover?
We have targets in kilowatt power, in density and in weight, and we need breakthrough technologies to get there. What we hear from experts is that these [breakthroughs] will take a little bit longer than everyone expects.
So it is just a matter of time?
I think it's a matter of time when it comes to the development of battery technology. The electric motor is very nicely defined. Battery management is not a problem. It's the chemistry, the physical elements of the battery that require a breakthrough.
When batteries get to that point, will Jaguar Land Rover offer battery-powered vehicles?