Jaguar Land Rover on Monday joined the weekly parade of companies touting billion-dollar investments in green energy and emissions reductions, pledging to turn Jaguar into an exclusively electric vehicle brand from 2025, matched by a surge in electrified Land Rovers – including six “pure electric variants” – and a 2039 target to become a net-zero carbon emissions car company.

JLR CEO Thierry Bollore

CEO Thierry Bollore said in a global announcement that Jaguar and Land Rover plan to offer “pure electric power, nameplate by nameplate, by 2030.” Everything Jaguar sells by then will be all-electric, and about 60 per cent of Land Rovers sold “will be equipped with zero tailpipe powertrains.”

Bollore said this dramatic shift in product strategy is part of a larger plan to Reimagine “the company, the two brands and the customer experience of tomorrow.”

The Reimagine strategy comes at a crisis moment for JLR. Sales of the British firm, owned by Indian company Tata Motors, collapsed in 2020. The combined effect of the COVID crisis and the Brexit stupidity led to a 23.6% decline in sales for the combined brands versus 2019. JLR sold 425,974 cars worldwide: Land Rover at 323,480 vehicle sales was down 18.3%, while the 102,494 Jaguar models were sold represented a 36.5% decline.

In short, JLR is in crisis mode, having already announced a 10% reduction in its workforce last year. Amid the gloom, there was some encouraging news for JLR, which returned to profitability in 2020.

JLR aims to reinvent itself as an ESG car company. New models and new ways to power them are coming.

Sales of the electric Jaguar I-Pace hit 7,807 in the final three months of 2020, a 69.3% year-on-year rise, while sales of the new Land Rover Defender – the very antithesis of the battery-powered I-Pace — surged 66% in the last three months of the year.

But most encouraging for the new ESG-fuelled strategy (environmental social and governance) was the fact that 53% of the vehicles sold in the final three months of the year offered some level of electrification: 6.1% fully electric, 5.5% plug-in hybrids and 41.4% featuring a mild-hybrid powertrain. In total, 43.3% of the models the company sold in 2020 featured an electrified powertrain.

JLR is now shifting to a three-platform strategy, with one for all Jags and two for three parts of Land Rover: Range Rover, Discovery and Defender. An all-electric Land Rover of some sort will emerge in 2024, while aside from the planned replacement for the XJ, a flood of new Jags will make it by 2025 “a pure electric luxury brand.”

After dithering for years, Jaguar is finally, officially, positioning itself as a Tesla fighter with a British pedigree and Indian backing. That makes perfect sense and should have been done with the launch of the I-PACE two years ago.

The pivot at Land Rover will be trickier. The brand has long been an environment-crushing, go-anywhere maker of military-style SUVs (sport-utility vehicles) dating all the way back to the Jeep knock-offs that launched the entire enterprise. The latest Defender trades on a muscular, boxy, bulging-biceps design. It looks like anything but an ESG darling.

After the sales collapse of 2020, JLR had no choice.

The new CEO, taking over after a 10-year run by former CEO Ralph Speth, now has the monumental task of leading the struggling automaker into a world not yet on the other side of the COVID pandemic, and while the economic and social catastrophe that is Brexit continues to unravel the British economy and perhaps – with both Scotland and Wales making independence vote noises — even the entire United Kingdom.

With all that as backdrop, the moves make sense, and really, Bollore and JLR have no choice. The company has been on an unsustainable path for several years now.

Just as ESG investing reflects a growing change-or-die sentiment, JLR must reinvent or “Reimagine” itself or collapse under the weight of its own unsustainable business plan which for too long has been rooted in the past, not the future.

Good luck, JLR. You’ll need it.

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