Apparently, the wheels have come off Jaguar Land Rover’s comeback. Apparently.
In the latest fiscal year, Tata Motors-owned JLR lost about $710 million, although that was a substantial improvement over the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, with its staggering loss of about $6.0 billion. The turnaround plan has shown results, to date.
But going forward, JLR will be under enormous pressure as it navigates through the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit. Of course, all the world’s automakers are now suffering huge pandemic-related losses as vehicle sales crater, but JLR is in a particularly difficult spot.
Tata, the owner, is an India-based company that has been going through a rough patch — struggles worsened by not just the pandemic, but myriad domestic issues that range from border skirmishes and a polarizing national leader to systemic racism (or at least the marginalizing of certain minorities) to India’s endemic and perhaps even unsolvable corruption.
Then there is the United Kingdom, where JLR is based and where most of its manufacturing, product development and general operating activities are based – though JLR does have manufacturing outposts in Brazil, Slovakia and China. The Boris Johnson Conservatives have completely bungled their pandemic response, as well, and its economic plans look equally sketchy.
Take note: India and the UK rank fourth and fifth globally for the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, behind on the United States, Brazil and Russia. Nothing holds the power to destroy economies like a failed response to a global disease.
(As a quick aside, you do see the pattern, right? The five worst-hit countries during this pandemic are led by narcissistic incompetents who have little or no interest in the safety and well-being of the broad population. They are self-aggrandizing showmen who are obsessed with past grievances, sowing discord, spinning false narratives, outright lying, and igniting the worst sorts of nationalistic and even racist tendencies and inclinations. All of them display a staggering degree of economic ignorance. Johnson, for example, insists that his government will proceed with Brexit as the world sits on the precipice of a second Great Depression.)
As for JLR in particular, Tata Motors is reportedly on the verge of forcing its JLR unit to make more strategic changes, notes www.just-auto.com, adding that Tata can no longer rely on JLR to be the “cash-cow” it once was. JLR has stalled with its turnaround. This puts Tata is in a tough situation. A further shakeup seems to be in the works.
Why would Tata insert itself at this time? Perhaps because Ralph Speth will leave JLR as CEO in September, after a decade at the helm and just before the UK commits economic suicide with Brexit – an act he very publicly opposed. Speth and others were right to opposed to the UK metaphorically slashing its wrists. But the damage has been done.
Under Speth, JLR has become the UK’s biggest and most important carmaker and a leading if not THE leading manufacturer. With Brexit, however, all UK manufacturing will decline further before there is any hope of a turnaround that may never come. Now seems a good time to retire from a UK-based manufacturing business.
Going forward, it seems unlikely that JLR will return to the glory days of 2015, when the company delivered nearly $5 billion in profits, a record. By 2017, however, missteps in China and overly aggressive expansion overall (too much production chasing too few sales), and a big bet on diesel just as diesel went into decline, had begun to smash JLR’s bottom. That and as yet unresolved quality issues that have besmirched the Jaguar and Land Rover brands for as long as I can recall.
On the plus side, as just-auto.com notes, the new Range Rover Evoque has been a surprising and welcome success and it truly is a fine entry. The growing possibility of profitable growth in China give JLR hope, too.
Then there’s Jaguar, the brand. Jaguar’s ongoing inability to deliver significant growth and returns has long hobbled the company, leaving the Land Rover side as the profit engine of the entire business. That won’t change without a market-changing product onslaught from Jag – which must do better with future models than we’ve seen with the XF and XE.
UK-based just-auto.com suggests a number of options for JLR, including cuts in workforce and capacity overall. The more sensible thing, however, might be to either let Jaguar “wither and die” or to reinvent the brand entirely – cutting ties with the past in a re-branding effort that would see Jag become electric only. Commit to making Jaguar a Tesla rival, top to bottom.
“This has long been rumoured as a strategic option for Jaguar and would solve one of the problems JLR’s faced in the decline in popularity of diesel,” notes just-auto.com
JLR could also cease operations in the United States and Canada to preserve cash. JLR has no manufacturing presence in North America at all, notes the British publication. This means it must bear the ongoing costs and uncertainties of being an importer – which under the Trump administration has been fraught with peril and unpredictability. Tariffs or the threat of them appear to be Trump’s favorite trade negotiation tool and a barrier to predicable trade which is critical for a global business like JLR.
Other options? The new JLR CEO could completely strip down what Speth’s leadership made of JLR during the last decade. Out with the old and in with whatever the new leadership team determines is the right course for a relatively small, niche-oriented luxury car brand trying to remain viable in a world of Brexit and COVID-19. Perhaps JLR needs to become a completely different company, from top to bottom. That could mean massive cuts or massive investment.
JLR’s ride during this post-Ford Motor period has been fun to watch and many of the new models, from the Range Rover Velar to the Jaguar F-Type have been a treat to drive. The glory days may not necessarily be over, though they are most certainly on hold at least until the world sees what a post-Brexit/post-pandemic world grappling with climate change and global insecurity looks like.