I have a bit of a theory about the current struggles of JLR and would appreciate your thoughts and comments, whether you’re an industry insider, owner, journo, or (like me) you’ve had a drink or two and wonder where it’s all going wrong for this great British outfit. JLR, love ‘em or otherwise, are a huge employer in the UK. Sales are down 4.6% on last year, which might not sound a lot, but it’s enough to put 4500 UK employees out of work. Not good. I almost want to stand next to a brazier waving a Socialist Worker sign, shouting things about injustice in a Brummie accent. There have been many reasons offered for this slump, from Brexit, to a slow electrification of its range, ‘diesel gate’ and poor product quality. But many of these matters also affect JLRs competitors. The real reason seems to lie in China where JLR sales are down a fifth, comparing 2018 to 2017. 2019 looks no brighter. There are many models in the JLR portfolio, I want to look at the Evoque. The roots of this problem go back nearly a decade.

In 2009 the British Government provided financial assistance worth £27 million on the agreement that the then new Evoque would be built in Liverpool.  Three years later JLR opened a joint venture factory in China with local company, Chery, to make the Evoque (and other models). There was, then, sufficient global demand for their baby SUV to justify multiple production sites. But I wonder if UK Plc wants its £27 million back now thousands will be put out of work in the UK, while the Chinese plant surges on. JLR misunderstood the Chinese market. As JLR unveiled the totally Chinese-made Evoque in 2015 at the Guangzhou motor show, local knock-off merchants LandWind took the wraps off their lookalike X7. In their haste to get product to market neither company had looked to protect their IP. JLR rushed it to court where it was thrown out on the basis that they had already shown the model and that any rights infringement couldn’t be retrospectively applied. Plus, frankly, the Chinese don’t seem to give a shit about the legalities of these things anyway.

Sales figures in China are not easy to find for the X7 but it seems that it has been selling a steady 4000 units a month (24000 a year) since 2015. JLR managed Chinese sales of their Evoque of 12000 in 2016, 19000 in 2017, and just 10000 last year. The X7 is outselling the Evoque roughly two-to-one there. In China JLR sold 20000 vehicles less in 2018 than in 2017. And 24000 people bought a Landwind X7 instead of an Evoque. I’m not great with numbers but can you see the conclusion of my Merlot-fuelled maths? If JLR had properly protected their IP then perhaps they wouldn’t be in this mess. Or understood that a market like China will knock anything off. BMW took a company called Shuanghuan to court over the X5 copy called SCEO, and essentially lost. What can Porsche do about the £12k Macan clone from Zotye? Another issue is one of marketing. Had Land Rover marketed their product properly consumers wouldn’t even be considering the cheapo alternatives, at any price. They’re supposed to be a premium product sat on some substantial engineering but, despite all the “best 4x4xfar” what-have-you, it seems that the Chinese just want those looks. JLR did not get the market there to value their know-how.

Prices; A genuine Evoque, made in China, sells from c.£49k. A LandWind X7 starts at under £12k. One quarter of the price. A £12 kit can be bought online to rebadge your X7 as an Evoque and, frankly, even Land Rover ‘stylist’ Victoria Beckham herself would be hard-pressed to tell the difference from 10 yards. Look at the picture at the top of this page – what is that? I am quite sure, without even having driven an X7, that it would probably drown in more than 6” of moist grass – but how many Evoque owners really use ‘em off-road anyway? And when it’s that cheap, does it matter anyway? The styling is the statement, that ‘I can go anywhere’ image Land Rover overly rely on. What it sits on, in reality, probably matters not to X7/Evoque owners. I’m sure Spen King (himself) said something like “Land Rovers should not be used as a fashion statement”, didn’t he? Yet there’s a 2WD Evoque and a convertible Evoque that looks like a spangly clog. The legal wrangle in China continues. It’s a lost cause, lads.

So do JLR give up and sell LandWind X7 crash-test-disasters in the UK to those who don’t know their approach angles from their French Bulldogs danglies? Do they say stuff it to China and just do low quantity, high quality in markets that appreciate their deeper abilities (and are actually prepared to pay for it)? I don’t know. Landwind increased their sales of all models tenfold in a decade. They’re not going away. I’m not buying one, but I’m not buying an Evoque either. I want an XJR but seemingly no-one else much does. JLRs parent, Tata, directly employ 3300 people in China but they won’t probably care where jobs come and go as long as they make money overall. JLR boss Ralf Speth was made Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the automotive industry, his predecessor was promoted up to Tata, these are car guys (car ‘chaps’ in JLR parlance, surely?) and we really hope they know what they’re doing. Trump and China trading import tariffs adds more trouble. It’s all a bit of a pickle. JLR got it wrong and China is the winner.

China now has JLR people schooling them how to make cars (thanks to the JLR factory in Changshu), they’ve got a domestic manufacturer, LandWind, creating lots of jobs, and they’re apparently fobbing off JLR with promises not to sell the X7 in Brazil (that huge market for luxury off-roaders) as some token apology for having blatantly taken the piss. I do hope JLR have some fight in them, because they need it now.

Your comments, corrections and opinions are warmly welcome. Get them in. I’ll be back in a bit. Cheers.

Rich Duisberg

PS – Issue three of MotorPunk magazine is out soon. See here for details.

One Response

  1. Jeremy Edwards

    My problem with JLR is they are not selling anything I want to buy. I don’t want a vehicle on a PCP and I do not want to spend more than £30k. The rumour mill suggests the new Defender will be £40k+, so at the moment I am more likely to by a new Suzuki Jimny at £18k, despite it being a little small.

    Reply

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