Land Rover production moved to Slovakia

Jaguar Land Rover is to open a new factory in the town of Nitra that is capable of producing 300,000 vehicles a year, not far behind the present total production of the group’s plants in Birmingham and on Merseyside.

After signing a letter of intent with the Slovakian prime minister, Jaguar Land Rover said that it expects to open the new plant in 2018, according to The Times.

The first new model out of Slovakia is likely to be the new generation Defender. Production of the existing vehicle is due to start running down after 60 years at its historic home in Solihull, which is operating at capacity having been designated to produce the Jaguar XE baby Jag.

There is speculation that Nitra, 100km east of Bratislava, could be the place that Jaguar also builds a new smaller crossover — the E-Pace — which would launch at the upmarket end of the space created by the likes of the Nissan Qashqai.

The Slovakia decision comes hard on the heels of a 31 per cent crash in the group’s profits in the April-to-June trading quarter after a halving in demand in China, hitherto Jaguar Land Rover’s strongest market.

The carmaker has been scouring eastern Europe for some time in a bid to begin significant production in a lower-cost industrial economy. Slovakia was chosen over Poland primarily because of production in the country of rival upmarket 4x4s in the Volkswagen group, including the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7. VW is also set to build bodies there for the Bentayga, the new 4×4 to be produced by its luxury brand Bentley.

“Slovakia is already established in the premium automotive sector,” a Jaguar Land Rover spokesman said. “It has the infrastructure, the supply chain, the skills and the mindset. Logistically it is set up very well.”

The plant in Nitra will heave Jaguar Land Rover closer to its targeted annual production levels of 800,000. Global manufacturing expansion, especially in the United States and Mexico, had also been under consideration.

The decision follows the recent move to start contract manufacturing of lower volume, specialist vehicles at the Magna Steyr manufacturing plant in Graz, over the border in Austria. There is speculation that the Graz factory will make a soft-top version of the bestselling Range Rover Evoque.

In recent months Jaguar Land Rover has also begun production in China of the Evoque and the Land Rover Discovery Sport. The Discovery Sport is also to be built in a plant under construction in Brazil, which opens next year. The group also assembles the Evoque and the Jaguar XF and XJ in Pune for the Indian market.

The latest plans have alarmed trade unions representing 17,000 car workers at Solihull and Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands and at Halewood on Merseyside. A further 1,400 are employed at the group’s new engine factory at Wolverhampton.

Des Quinn, the senior Unite shop steward, said that officials are in talks with management to obtain guarantees for UK workers.

“JLR is going from strength to strength but it should not be to the detriment of the UK workforce,” he said.