Why Jaguar Land Rover’s new engine factory matters

Published: 31 October 2014

Yesterday's opening by The Queen of Jaguar Land Rover's new Engine Manufacturing Centre made the BBC Breakfast show and Radio 4's Today programme. But it still didn't attract the fanfare it deserves. Some might struggle to get excited about the launch of a less-than-snappily titled factory making engines - not sexy whole cars - on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. But this was a moment as significant as the launch of the Jaguar XE. 

Why? Partly because the EMC will still be making engines long after the current XE has gone. But mainly because it wasn't that long ago - 2008 - that I was reporting the widely-held view that we might never again see a major new car factory opened in western Europe.

Since then, more factories have closed and the region remains plagued by flat demand and chronic overcapacity. And if you'd had to guess back then which car company would buck the trend and be bold enough to build, you wouldn't have picked JLR, which was looking decidedly pale and asking Peter Mandelson for a bail-out.

Jaguar Land Rover: from bail-outs to bonanza

How quickly things change. In the last financial year, JLR's profits were more than double what Tata paid (£1.15bn) for the whole business in 2008. It nearly made that in the first quarter of its current financial year alone. But the money is not being shipped back to India. A full £10 billion of investment has already been committed here in the UK. There will be 50 'product actions' in the next five years - new models, new engines, major updates.

And there's the EMC. I sat next to industry expert Professor David Bailey at the opening ceremony, and we couldn't think of another major, mainstream new car factory in the UK since BMW's Hams Hall engine plant in 2001.

The EMC has cost JLR half a billion quid, and the Ingenium four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines it will make cost the same to develop. (And what a great move to give Ingenium a proper name we can remember: fixing it in our minds, reminding us that JLR now designs and builds its own engines).

The future of engines

The 1400 people who work at the EMC are infectiously proud of the plant, which went from green field to its first pilot build in just 18 months, and of the engine itself. This is Jaguar's first self-built engine in a generation, and they talk enthusiastically about its super-fine tolerances, and nerdy details like the acoustically-damped fuel injectors (no 'tick' at idle) and the very, very slightly ovalized fuel pump drive sprocket, which has a tiny but worthwhile effect on refinement.

But the most amazing fact is that they're building it at all, and that they've built a whole new factory in which to do it.

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

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