A second chance for BMW to save the British car industry?

The Volkswagen diesel scandal a few years ago sent the automotive industry into free fall. Sure, on the surface every major manufacturer is showing their best poker face as they scramble to cobble together "clean" electric vehicles claiming that this was always their intention. In truth, this technology was coming but not this quickly. The bigger manufacturers have the benefit of enough money and economies of scale to meet this challenge, but even they are forging Landmark alliances and forgetting years of rivalry to survive. Small car makers are at risk of becoming extinct and no company looks more at risk than Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

JLR was riding the 2000s on a wave of success. They were free from Ford's ownership and their new owners (Indian firm Tata) were content to leave them to their own devises. Sales in China were booming and Land Rover couldn't build cars quickly enough. The Evoque opened up a new market demographic and paved the way for the later Velar. Jaguar, not to be overshadowed had beautifully designed cars by Ian Callum, including the luxurious XJ and athletic F-type sports car. Later they had a surprise hit with the F-Pace SUV and followed it up with the smaller E-Pace. Then came the scandal and outrage. Anyone seen driving a diesel became a pariah and Land Rover vehicles suddenly became deeply unpopular, even in China where sales dried up. JLR was left in deep trouble. They had spent a lot of time and money developing their own in-house petrol and diesel engines under the "Ingenium" moniker just as everyone began looking to electric platforms for salvation. Over the last year JLR has been hit by massive job losses and continues to hemorrhage money. The new factory in Slovakia and the reborn Defender will help Land Rover but Jaguar is in a more precarious position. Sales of their saloon models are falling and their existing SUV range are too heavy and outdated. JLR needs a saviour, and it looks like their saviour will come from Germany in the form of BMW.

Jaguar E-Pace

I would love to know which company picked up the phone first, but we have been hearing about this possible relationship growing through BMW sharing its engine technology with JLR along with a commitment to co-develop electric platforms. The latest development is the rumour that Jaguar will build two small SUVs based on BMW's new FAAR platform. The name is derived from the German Frontantriebsarchitektur, and is an evolution of their current front wheel drive architecture. What makes the FAAR so clever is its modularity. It is designed around conventional cars rather than BMW's more expensive carbon fibre models such as the i3 and i8. FAAR comes in three configurations and can accept a pure combustion engine, a plug-in hybrid and a pure EV version. Essentially, one platform fits all. The new F40 1-series is the first car built on it and is another sign of the times, being front-wheel drive for the first time since the 1-series first appeared in 2004.

BMW F40 1-Series

Jaguar could benefit massively by having access to this platform. Firstly, it would allow them to get smaller and lighter cars to market quickly. The current E-Pace is based on the old Evoque platform of 2012 and its biggest handicap is weight. The FAAR platform will be lighter even with the battery packs. In addition, the latest iDrive and infotainment systems in BMW cars is still faster and more robust than the British offerings. This is the type of quality people expect, especially in premium products like Jaguar motorcars. Supposedly Jaguar will build two small SUV's, one conventional and the other being a sporty coupe-style model. Jaguar's brand is different enough from BMW as not to steal sales from the X1 and X2 which will also move to FAAR in time.

BMW gets a lot from this deal too. The German company already has a huge presence in the UK. They own MINI and Rolls Royce and both brands have continued to be successful. They also operate an engine plant in Hans Hall that builds their smaller engines. Brexit fears aside, collaborating with JLR will further secure their position within the UK.  Additionally, this agreement will also give economy of scale benefits. All the 1-series and most of the 2-series cars will move to FAAR along with the entire MINI range. Having Jaguar using the same building blocks will increase volumes and allow both companies to compete with larger rivals like the Volkswagen group and Toyota.

I would also suspect BMW saw an opportunity to get closer to Land Rover again. Although not explicitly mentioned, Land Rover and Jaguar are too tightly integrated to be treated as separate entities. Land Rover could also utilize this platform for the next generation Evoque and the rumoured "Freelander" base model. BMW lost Land Rover to Ford over twenty years ago and this hurt them, especially given they had just completed development on the third-generation Range Rover at the time. Like Jaguar, Land Rover has a distinct brand identity that could complement BMW's X range of SUVs.

On a purely sentimental level I would love to see this relationship flourish. There is room among all the brands to offer exciting and distinctive cars with the quality to match other rivals. They have successfully worked together in the past and Jaguar is a far healthier brand than Rover ever was. The simple fact is the British car industry is in crises right now and to survive partnerships are a necessity and BMW is a logical choice. It will be interesting to see how it all evolves in the coming months and years.

 

 

Title image from www.autox.com

BMW 1-Series image from www.autocar.co.uk

Jaguar E-Pace image from www.autoexpress.co.uk