This must have been one of Speth’s few rabble-rousing performances. He’s not a natural bravura man, preferring soft-voiced and rather intense discussion among smaller groups, whom he expects to be as well informed as he is. His authority inside JLR is great, partly because of his reputation for asking the question you hoped he wouldn’t, but mostly because of the huge progress he has brought in just seven years. Here’s a short, extraordinary summary…
Since 2010, JLR’s vehicle output has quadrupled to 604,000, a tally that company insiders wouldn’t even have whispered a short time ago. A new record is expected for 2017 and nowadays even JLR’s famously cautious CEO doesn’t demur if you suggest a million might be in prospect under the right post-Brexit conditions. “Maybe after we’ve set up our new factory in Slovakia, we might get close to that,” he allows.
JLR’s profits now run at around £1.5 bilevlion a year, although the benevolent attitude of the parent Tata Group, whose board Speth joined in 2015, the same year he was awarded an honorary knighthood, has resulted in JLR becoming the UK’s biggest investor in R&D. Spending has exceeded £6bn over the past two years and shows absolutely no sign of abating.
To handle the growth, JLR’s workforce has expanded in five years from 15,000 to 42,000. Its recruitment of engineers has been so single-minded – 17,000 and counting – that the new demand has raised the traditionally low status of the profession in this country. “An engineer is no longer someone who mends your washing machine,” marvels one JLR ‘lifer’. “An engineer is someone who works on Jaguar’s fabulous new electric I-Pace that’s about to give Tesla a bloody nose.”
Speth can’t collect his latest accolade – the 2017 Issigonis Trophy, Autocar’s most prestigious and most personal award – at the official ceremony, because while the rest of us are celebrating in the Silverstone Wing, he will be at a Tata Group board meeting in Mumbai, the first under a newly appointed chairman. He is likely to be a star turn as he reveals JLR’s latest financial results, which are expected to be stellar.
Thus Mr Editor Tisshaw and I have come to Solihull to make the presentation early, whereupon the CEO gives us a half day of his valuable time. We fill it with a tour of the latest ‘Velar to Velar’ exhibition (a fascinating walk through 48 years of Range Rovers, open to the public), plus a good look at the early, highly flexible body and final assembly lines from which the latest Range Rover Velar is about to spring. Then there’s a working lunch in Solihull’s swish customer delivery centre and a comprehensive talk about JLR’s and Speth’s matters of the moment.