Changes at the top at Land Rover

Moves in the management at Land Rover suggest change is on its way

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While Geneva’s Cointrin Airport was bustling with winter sports enthusiasts heading for their late season resorts, over the road at the Palexpo venue for the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS18), members of the motoring media were wondering whether Jaguar Land Rover was also heading for a slippery slope, writes Mike Gould.

This followed the re-location of the company’s stand into a desolate corner next to owners, Tata Motors, and a lacklustre press conference debuting the Range Rover SV Coupé and the Jaguar I-PACE electric car.

The event was previewed by the surprise announcement that Felix Bräutigam would become Chief Marketing Officer, effectively absorbing the responsibilities of Andy Goss, who as Sales Operations Director had been presiding over a rapid rise in Jaguar and Land Rover demand. Goss, would be leaving to ‘pursue new challenges in the automotive business’ – shorthand for not wanting to stick around in the new organisation.

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Anyone wondering why the JLR event seemed so downbeat was given another reason for the gloom when, just over a week later, it was reported that Special Vehicle Operations MD, John Edwards, was also on his way to be replaced by Michael van der Sande joining the company from the Renault sports car division, Alpine.

Edwards’ departure marks another step in the demise of former Rover Group and Land Rover staff to be replaced by European car men (Bräutigam is German, van der Sande, Dutch) and poses the question as to who might be next.

There are fears it could be Land Rover’s Chief Design Office, Gerry McGovern. Recently awarded the prestigious Designer of the Year Award at the 33rd Festival Automobile International, Land Rover could be seen as too small a showcase for McGovern’s prodigious talent. Insiders also report that his ambitious design themes for the brand are being tamed by more cautious members of the board. His proposals for the Discovery and Discovery Sport were rumoured to be much more radical than the designs that eventually went into production while the motoring press certainly expected something more of the Range Rover SV Coupé.

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Following the success of the LRX-derived Evoque, motor manufacturers would be queuing up to grab McGovern but he certainly has enough cachet to open his own studio, perhaps taking with him some of Land Rover’s best creative talent.  If these fears are real, they could certainly explain McGovern’s uncharacteristically hesitant performance at Geneva.

All this comes against the background that JLR is, despite a 6.5% increase in sales for 2017, a minnow when compared with other manufacturers. While JLR garnered 621,000 customers in 2017, rival specialist BMW flagged over two million and the Fiat Chrysler group double that. JLR’s biggest weapon in its armoury is its distinctive British design. If that edge is lost, then it’s going to be a world as cold and as hard as the mountains framing Geneva for the UK’s flagship motor manufacturer.