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John Edwards, the head of Jaguar’s Special Vehicle Division on how to take vehicles to the next level.

With the sound of the Jaguar XKSS revving in the background, and the hustle and bustle of Archibald and Shorter’s staff preparing for the night’s event – John Edwards (MD of Jaguar’s Special Vehicle Division) took time out to talk all things SVO with me.

In so many ways, 1 million pounds worth of reverberated, harnessed 1957 combustion echoing around the swish brand new showroom was the perfect backdrop for the this interview…

I’m actually heading up to the SVO facility later this year.

Great, I promise you, you won’t disappointed. I sometimes have to pinch myself.We are 3 years old as a business, I inherited the business, SVO existed before but it had a different name, we used to convert defenders into cherry pickers. We had a workshop in Solihull which was small, dark, dingey and now we have a 20,000 square metre facility, which is huge. We’ve got an all new fully automated paint facility, a commissioning suite, and we’ve got a workshop where we process 3,000 cars and 5,000 cars through the paint facility, the business has just grown massively. Likewise in the classic side, we’ve got a brand new Classic Works as we call it which is a 15,000 square metre facility 20 car showroom, 50 bays in the workshop and a storage facility.

Jaguar XKSS

[Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) focuses on designing and engineering high specification halo vehicles. Vehicle Personalisation undertakes luxury bespoke commissions and is responsible for Jaguar Land Rover’s vehicle accessories – essentially taking JLR’s best and making them even better. Whilst the Jaguar Land Rover Classic business is responsible for all aspects of Jaguar and Land Rover Classic, including restorations and parts supply].

It sounds enormous

It is, we had a press opening a short while ago and they were gobsmacked.

[John Edwards was appointed to the position of Jaguar’s Managing Director, Special Operations Division, in June 2014. His previous roles have included Global Brand Director, Land Rover, Managing Director, Land Rover UK and Regional Director for Overseas Operations, Director of Global Marketing plus a Director of Mini/ MG UK – Let’s just say, John Edwards knows cars and SUV’s].

You have a marketing background, did you see this (SVO) as the way of the future?

No not really. I come from a marketing background, I was then MD of our Sales company in the UK, I then took over Europe as well, I had previously done our overseas markets so commercially not marketing, originally marketing and then broadened – when I was promoted to the board I was LandRover brand director and that was more than marketing, it was actually looking after the overall LandRover business, even though I have a marketing bent and I’m certainly not an engineer or a manufacturing guy, I’m a commercial guy really.

I give credit to the ‘way of the future’ to the CEO Dr Ralf Speth, he is passionate about the Classic market but recognises that there’s a business opportunity there as well, and he’s been passionate about us producing what he calls Halo vehicles, Special vehicles and it was he that persuaded me to take this opportunity and to try and build incremental, added value, high margin, business and that’s exactly what it is.

Our customers are typically car enthusiasts, they love their cars, they’re pretty discerning, they’re demanding, but if you create a relationship with them it can be really rewarding. So we’ve got a classic car customer that actually gets to know us and buys an SVR and then buys a project 7 and becomes a really good relationship.

Is the whole range going to get the SVR treatment?

Not necessarily. We’ve got three brands of SV product. We talk about Luxury performance and capability. Luxury is SVA, the A stands for autobiography, Performance is SVR and capability is SVX. For each of those sub-brands we have DNA, so we know an SVR in our mind needs to be lighter, more powerful, more aerodynamic, better performance, distinctive exterior design, and if you can tick all those boxes then you can think about giving the product an SVR badge. But there isn’t necessarily a market for all products, to all that is a big investment (multi million pounds) so in theory you could have a halo product on any of our products, we’ve got 12 or 13 nameplates now but I think we’ll probably be quite selective as we develop the business moving forward.

Where does your love lie (Performance etc)?

I think everybody has a desire for performance but I also (because of my background) really like hardcore LandRover products. And we’ve been really successful in building the LandRover business over the last 5 or 6 years and we always talk about breadth of capability with LandRover. It started as an off-road business and over the years we’ve kept our off-road capability but we’ve stretched the boundaries of on-road. A Range Rover Sport SVR is the most capable LandRover ever on road but it’s also very capable off road. But what I also quite like the idea of, is stretching the off road capability even further so I always talk about an SVX being a cross between a Camel Trophy and a Paris Dakar. Somewhere there is an SVX, it’s just extreme in the other direction.

It’s crazy

Which IS crazy. I think the problem is, if you have any enthusiasm about cars, all of our cars are great, they are just extreme versions.

Obviously you have a great platform to start with, you’re handed a car (SUV) that is almost in the pinnacle of its capability – Do you strip it all down and work back up from there, or do you think before hand ‘this is where we’d like to take this vehicle?’

We take the core product, (and as you say, I’ve been with the company 25 years and our core products are stronger that they have ever been, by a country mile. So we take the core product and we just see how we can stretch them a little bit. We think ‘what have we got to do this car to improve it’. An F type is a good example. The most extreme F-type there was before we got hold of it was the R, which is a pretty extreme car. 550PS, all wheel drive, it’s a pretty smokey car, and to put a car on top of that was really quite difficult. So we said, ‘well what would it take to deliver a 200mph version? Even though the core car is 180mph, we are only increasing it by 10% thereabouts, actually that is hugely challenging. We had to completely redesign the front bumpers, the splitters, we had to have an active areo at the back, we needed to redesign the exhaust to make sure the air – an awful lot of making the car go fast is air management, in and out of the engine and the brakes, over and under the car – but that was just a case of what would we have to do to make it go 200mph, how much would that cost us, how far could we push the engine and that’s when the commercial side comes in, you do the maths and say ‘well it’s going to cost us ‘x’, we will need to sell ‘y’ at this sort of price to make sense commercially – does it make sense, yeah we think it does, come on let’s go.

Is there a volume band you look at?

No not really, I mean there are different manufacturing techniques and tooling techniques if the volume is lower than a certain number, but we did 6 classic lightweight E-Types, we sell 2,500 Range Rover Sport SVR’s, because the volumes are different, one is handbuilt, one is built down the line, we sequence our parts to the cars built down the line, it comes off the end, we will just tweak it and do a few things..

And they are both commercially viable?

Yes, absolutely

There’s no ‘for the love or for the fun of it?’

No unfortunately not.

From a business point of view, what drives you?

The people. Both in the team and also the customers. I love interacting with the customers and the retailers. I think the other thing that drives me is the opportunity to create and leave a legacy. I repeat, it wasn’t my idea, it was the CEO who actually said, this is what I want to do, but being given the opportunity to create a Classic and SVO business bigger and better than before, and I hope will still be here in 30 years time – with someone else driving it but I’d have some quiet pride that I was there from the beginning.

Last question – Best bit of advice you’ve ever received?

Control the Controllables. In our business, don’t worry about the things you can’t control, worry about the things that are under your control, so control the controllables. Make sure you do YOUR job well. Do the basics right and hopefully the rest of it will follow.

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