Jaguars and Land Rovers, you can’t get away from them. Walk through the swishest streets of the world’s coolest capitals, watch a James Bond movie, cheer-on Sir Ben Ainslie in his efforts to bring home the America’s Cup (Land Rover is BAR’s main sponsor) or pull over under the orders of a motorcycle cop to allow the smooth passage of a VIP cavalcade, and the chances are you’ll spot a Jaguar Land Rover product.
Hard to believe, then, that the Jaguar and Land Rover brands were millstones that former owner Ford couldn’t wait to get rid of when it sold the pair of them to giant Indian automotive group Tata Motors less than a decade ago.
In 2016, Jaguar Land Rover sold 581,313 vehicles around the world
Back then, the two marques were struggling to shift more than 150,000 ‘units’ a year between them – but in 2016, Jaguar Land Rover sold 581,313 vehicles around the world, became the UK’s leading maker of ‘premium’ cars and SUVs, and expanded its manufacturing base with the opening of a new factory in Brazil, the development of the Jaguar XFL specifically for China and by laying the foundations of a new plant in Slovakia.
The remarkable turnaround is down to a combination of massive investment, class-leading design and engineering, smart marketing and, of course, returning Jaguar to its rightful position in the premium car world after disasters under the previous management such as the Mondeo-based X-Type and the retro (in a bad way) S-Type. But perhaps the really clever bit has been the elevation of the Land Rover name from the farm tracks of rural Britain to the international superhighways of automotive luxury.
In fact, Jaguar Land Rover’s products have now become so beloved by the world’s well-heeled that the firm has had to establish a whole new department to service a growing number of customers who don’t just want a Jaguar or Land Rover, but one that’s rarer, faster, better equipped, more sophisticated, more individual and more expensive than the already extremely capable models that roll off the various production lines at the rate of more than 1,500 per day.
The department is called Special Vehicle Operations – better known as SVO – and its creation was announced in 2014, having been a ‘dream’ of Jaguar Land Rover’s CEO Dr Ralf Speth ever since Tata Motors acquired the marques.
Its importance was demonstrated last year with the official opening of the SVO Technical Centre, a £20 million facility near Coventry that covers an area of 20,000 square metres incorporating manufacturing, paint, customer commissioning and presentation zones. The centre employs more than 200 people and could be described as a cross between an F1 engineering base and a bespoke automotive atelier in the tradition, for example, of Bentley’s ‘Mulliner’ personalisation programme.
The man responsible for the growth and development of SVO is its managing director John Edwards, who oversees everything from signing-off a bespoke paint job to the design and creation of production vehicles such as the top-selling Range Rover Sport SVR – a shameless thug of an SUV that’s been souped-up through the fitment of the same 5-litre, 542bhp V8 engine used in the Jaguar F-Type R.
The SVO engineers have also reduced the weight by more than 30 kilos compared with the standard Sport, increased cornering ability with the use of a hydraulic ‘active roll’ control system, improved stopping power with a set of huge Brembo brakes, and fitted a specially-tuned exhaust system that comes close to shaking the earth. The car will still cross a rutted field without effort, but it will also touch 60mph from standstill in a sports-car-like 4.7 seconds.
What we’re doing at SVO is extending the boundaries of the main Jaguar Land Rover business in order to amplify and accentuate the core values of the two brands
‘What we’re doing at SVO is extending the boundaries of the main Jaguar Land Rover business in order to amplify and accentuate the core values of the two brands,’ says Edwards. ‘Part of the brief is to develop a business within the business.
‘This year, we will deliver close to 5,000 SVO-badged cars, including the £95,000 Range Rover Sport SVR – our biggest seller – the Jaguar F-Type SVR which costs around £110,000, and the Range Rover SV Autobiography, which retails between £130,000 and £160,000 for the standard and long wheelbase versions respectively.’
Despite the relatively small volumes of SVO vehicles that will be sold compared with the number of standard production models, SVO is a disproportionately high revenue-earner for Jaguar Land Rover – hence the hefty investment in the new facility, which includes state-of-the-art paint shops and areas where everything from individual components to complete cars are exactingly hand-finished.
We want to uphold the integrity of the Land Rover and Jaguar names, which means we don’t necessarily want bright pink cars with bright pink interiors running around
And it’s the remit to conceive and create really ‘special vehicles’ that earned SVO its name. And when it comes to ‘bespeaking’, says Edwards, the sky is more-or-less the limit. ‘We probably produce around 200 cars per year that are true bespoke commissions, perhaps with a combination of special paint colours, completely individual interiors, performance upgrades and tailor-made extras. It’s not quite true to say that we’ll do absolutely anything, because we want to uphold the integrity of the Land Rover and Jaguar names, which means we don’t necessarily want bright pink cars with bright pink interiors running around.
A customer will visit the SVO commissioning suite and develop a vehicle that is entirely individual but also extremely tastefully executed
‘Typically, however, a customer will visit the SVO commissioning suite, have a one-to-one meeting with a designer and, between them, they’ll develop a vehicle that is entirely individual but also extremely tastefully executed.’
One notable SVO project involved the production of a highly-limited run of Range Rovers in conjunction with premium British sporting gunmakers Holland & Holland. The £180,000 cars feature electrically deployable walnut tables, a bespoke interior lighting system, deep tan leather upholstery embroidered with Holland & Holland detailing and wooden trim polished in the style of a shotgun stock. The main feature, however, is a boot-mounted, leather-trimmed gun cabinet that glides out on aluminium runners.
And SVO won’t only upgrade cars – it has the ability to design and make them from scratch, as evinced by the superb, F-Type based Jaguar Project 7 that was unveiled as a concept car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2013. Initially nothing more than a ‘fantasy’ car penned by Jaguar design chief Ian Callum in honour of the 60th anniversary of the D-Type racer, it attracted such interest that, when SVO was founded, the decision was made to build a strictly-limited edition of 250 cars at £130,000 each. They all sold, and now change hands pre-owned for around £175,000 apiece.
‘We think there’s great potential for further limited editions such as the Project 7, and we have a plan to launch a new “halo” product along those lines every three to four years,’ says Edwards. Which means, of course, that something exciting is due to appear from around the corner in the near future. Best set aside that deposit now…