Jaguar Land Rover announce a new car plant in the West Midlands. Paul Horrell reports
Yes, Jaguar Land Rover is going to build a brand new factory in Wolverhampton that will, in three or four years, start churning out all-new engines. And this says a lot about where the company expects to be in half a decade's time.
The factory is to build four-cylinder engines - lots of them. It's costing £355 million to build, and will employ 750 people.
Jaguar Land Rover's highly sophisticated V8 motors, and the brand-new related V6 it showed in the C-X16 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, will continue to be built by Ford in Wales. So there will still be fast luxurious top-range Jags and Range Rovers.
But the company wants to expand, and the significant volume growth will be done by moving to smaller cars with smaller (but still fairly powerful) engines. These are the engines that will be made in Wolverhampton. BMW, Audi and Mercedes are going the same way - more smaller cars, and more big cars with smaller engines.
We've already seen this with the new Range Rover Evoque. All its engines are four-cylinders, and yet it's a vehicle that can convincingly sell for £50k once you add the options.
Jaguar will go the same way. In three years' time it will launch a rival for the BMW 3-series. A year or so after that, there will be a compact Jaguar crossover - even more road-biased than the Evoque, obviously, to make sure there isn't internal cannibalisation.
Jaguar Land Rover is actually in a better position than most luxury makers to launch four-cylinder engines, because its cars will be light. They're working on something called the ‘premium lightweight architecture', an aluminium structure that shaves at least 150kg off steel rivals. Lighter cars are easier to propel, so they can be more economical with the same performance using a smaller engine. This lightweight architecture starts big, with the 2012 Range Rover and 2013 Range Rover Sport, but it can be adapted and shrunk right down to the level of these relatively small Jags.
We know these engineers can design great powerplants: look at the current V8. But it's a huge investment by their owners, Tata of India, to commit to designing a family of new four-cylinder engines, and to making it in the UK.
When the company was first taken over, people talked with grave concern about jobs being moved offshore. They needn't have worried.