Bob Grace became president of Jaguar Land Rover China in 2010 after a long stint working for Jaguar Land Rover in the U.K. We sat down with him at the Beijing Motor Show to learn more about the company’s plans for the Chinese market, and the differences between European and Asian luxury customers.
How is working in China different from in Europe?
China is rapidly going through a phase of its development that most other counties probably took 20, 30, 40 years to go through. We’re seeing a lot of urbanization, a lot of very rapid growth of personal wealth, and we’re seeing that at an age profile that is significantly younger than you would see in almost any other developed country around the world. The consumption of luxury cars is by people who are probably ten or 20 years younger than you would see in the States or Western Europe.
Does that explain Jaguar Land Rover’s recent sales growth in China?
Let’s be honest with ourselves, every car manufacturer is seeing explosive growth (in China), so it’s not a unique phenomenon to Jaguar Land Rover. The (Chinese) market’s exploding and we just happened to be in a situation where we caught the tide at the right time. We’ve grown our dealer network from 40 that we inherited from our former importers (in 2010), and today we’ve got about 89 dealerships operational. We’ll soon reach about 140 retail points across China.
How are vehicle tastes different in China?
Chinese consumers like long wheelbase models, so you’ll see every manufacturer here making long wheelbase derivatives of their products. They particularly like the long wheelbase Jaguar XJ L, and so China is now the biggest market for the XJ worldwide. The Chinese like smaller engines, so we introduced a 2.0-liter petrol engine in the Freelander (the LR2 in the U.S.). We’re now launching the 2.0-liter petrol engine into XJ and XF for the first time, again to play to the market trends. Actually, in the XJ market segment, a lot of people don’t drive their own car. They sit in the back seat and have a chauffeur.
Given that a lot of people prefer to be driven, how do you sell sports cars like the XK and future F-Type?
If you look at any sports car brand here in China, the volumes are generally quite modest. But I think if you look at the spurting growth that this country has gone through, sports car are going to catch on. Is it going to be this year, next year, or in the next five years? I’m not sure at the moment. It won’t come overnight, but it will come.
What can you tell us about the recently announced joint venture between Jaguar Land Rover and Chery Automotive?
All I can say is that if you look at our volume growth and our future aspirations, to compete here in China you’ve got to make cars in China. Almost everybody now is assembling sedans and also SUVs in China. I think within the next five to eight years, most car manufacturers will be building a significant number of SUVs here. If you want to maintain a decent market share in a very large market, you have no choice but to put down the infrastructure and build vehicles here in China.