Anyone who has taken over as CEO of an automotive manufacturer in the past few years has done so knowing the sector is undergoing big changes.
Exactly to what extent those changes might be is another matter because, let’s be honest, a few years ago we were still predicting the rise of the electric vehicle and autonomous cars were still only being talked about in research and development meetings.
Today the electric vehicle (EV) is not only a reality, but as governments announce bans or restrictions on the internal combustion engine, the silent revolution of the EV is set to relegate traditional petrol and diesel engines to the back benches.
So you can only imagine that when Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), was appointed in 2010, he probably thought his biggest task would be replacing the Defender.
We spoke to him on a visit to SA and he clearly has a great deal on his plate, not least of which is changing his own perception on EVs. In 2015 he said customers were not keen on EVs, mainly because they were too expensive and battery technology was not delivering the range people wanted.
Since then Jaguar has unveiled its I-Pace electric crossover and it has more to come. “We have another product of interest with batteries,” Speth said, although he would not provide details.
However, he did confirm that JLR will have electrification available as an option on all new models launched from 2020. This means the company will not go as far as Volvo in having electrification in every model, but instead customers will have the option to choose some level of electrification, be it mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or full electric. Or they can stick to traditional engines, something JLR has invested in heavily with its new Engine Manufacturing Centre producing its Ingenium petrol and diesel powerplants.
Speth remains confident that the industry, and for that matter the consumer, is not going to switch overnight. He said hybrids, PHEVs and others will remain “bridging technologies”.
“We will have, for a very long time, internal combustion engines,” he said, adding that he is “quite sure that on a global basis, we will be manufacturing internal combustion engines beyond 2040”.
That date is key because as a British company JLR has to respond to the UK government’s recent announcement that it wants to ban the internal combustion engine in 2040.
On the matter of 2040, he said: “Let’s see what the acceptance of EVs is and how fast the infrastructure is developed.”
However, he hit out at the British government, saying “we have European laws so the industry knows its direction. There should not be countries or cities making their own decisions on banning the internal combustion engine.”
That might not matter once Brexit kicks in, but he reiterated that “we [JLR] will stay in Britain. We are absolutely committed.”
Responding to rumours that the company might be keen on taking over Vauxhall manufacturing facilities, particularly its Ellesmere Port plant, should Opel’s new owners Peugeot choose to pull out of the UK, Speth said there were no discussions at present but he did not say it would not happen.
“Let’s see what will happen. Whatever happens we will respond to it.”
In the meantime, JLR also has to deal with the introduction of the new real-world emissions and fuel consumption testing, which is being launched in Europe on Friday.
“All CO2 ratings will go up for everyone,” he said. “It is a step closer but [the tests] can never really mirror real-world eco-nomy figures. However, the introduction of the new WLTP [Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure] presents a major hurdle for the industry as it also needs to meet a strict average emissions target in 2020 in Europe of 95g/km of CO2 across its fleet.”
Achieving that average will be helped by low CO2 diesel engines, but it will also be vital to have zero-emission vehicles, such as the I-Pace which will be on the road in some interna-tional markets in 2018. SA will have to wait a little longer, with Richard Gouverneur, MD of JLR SA, saying the new model will only come here in 2019.
Gouverneur cites a lack of infrastructure as the main reason for the longer wait, but there is also the matter of higher duties the South African government continues to apply on EVs coming in from Europe.
He said the local operation was developing a roll-out plan for EV infrastructure.
Initially he stated he was not in discussions with BMW and Nissan, which had to collaborate on their own infrastructure after the government failed to fulfil its promises in this regard. However, he did then say he was working with the Electric Vehicle Industry Association (EVIA) in SA and through this would be open to talks with his two rival manufacturers.
Then there is the matter of autonomous vehicles. “I am quite sure it will still take a very long time,” Speth said. “It needs to happen 360 degrees otherwise it is too risky.”
He was particularly critical of those predicting full Level 5 autonomous vehicles, where the driver has no control.
“Level 5 is only possible with a very high level of technology which nobody has now.”
He predicted autonomous cars would only happen in restricted areas in order to restrict the risks associated not just with the vehicles, but with the interaction with those around them.
So what’s next for the company? Ahead of the I-Pace will be the new E-Pace, which will be in SA early in 2018. Along with the F-Pace and the rumoured J-Pace, does this mean Jaguar is also predicting the demise of the sedan market? Not so, said Speth, who admitted to being a fan of sedans.
“I am absolutely convinced the sedan market will grow,” he said. That is not a view shared by many, but we shall see.
And what about the new Defender? “I’ve driven the new Defender,” he said, adding that the model would meet all global regulations and be “sensational” off-road. However, he said the Defender “cannot be anchored anymore in farming”, advising that the days when you could fix one with a simple spanner were long gone.
He was adamant the new Defender would have a strong future in Africa.
“We will bring the Defender back to Africa,” he said, although quite when that would be, no one is really sure.