July 2015 | Christabelle Noronha

'We are the envy of our competitors'

The MENA region is one of the largest markets for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in terms of global sales, and it is poised to become even more important for the luxury carmaker in the years ahead. That explains the thought, care and commitment being lavished by the company on a geographical spread in which the Middle East stands out, and where it sees plenty of potential to further entrench the appeal of its two sterling automobile brands.

The responsibility of turning such potential into performance currently rests with Bruce Robertson, a JLR veteran of 19 years who has been the company’s managing director for the MENA region since April 2014. An executive vice president with JLR in China prior to this appointment, the South Africa-born Robertson — a 44-year-old sports fanatic who served as a semi-professional rugby referee for a decade — speaks in this interview about the company’s achievements and prospects in the Middle East and the wider MENA expanse.

Where does the Middle East figure in JLR’s business matrix?
MENA is the fifth-largest region for JLR globally. We operate in 18 markets, we have 43 dealerships, we have a regional office in Dubai, and we have a testing and engineering centre where product development takes place. We made an investment of $1.5 million a year ago to ensure that the products we engineer are right for our markets and customers, here in the Middle East and globally. We have a training academy where we train the staff at our dealerships — we ask them to present and welcome the brand in a manner that is befitting a luxury vehicle — and we have a parts distribution centre.

What are the challenges of doing business in the Middle East? Are these unique to the region?
I think, first of all, there is the regional instability. There are challenges in terms of geographical location and political uncertainties, but as an organisation committed to the region we have made significant investments here, as have our partners.

From JLR’s point of view, we are going to continue to grow and we remain firmly committed to the Middle East and North Africa. Our dealerships will rise from 43 to 60 and we expect to create employment for nearly 2,000 people in the next two-three years. We have a footprint within the region that allows us to expand our business.

Which of the two brands, Jaguar or Land Rover, is more popular here?
Land Rover is a heritage brand in the Middle East and many of the sheiks would have known it from the time they were children. Many of their fathers would have seen their lands from the Land Rovers of the 1940s and the 1950s.

Watch this video to know more about Jaguar Land Rover's long and profitable relationship with the MENA region
I should add that we have some established Jaguar dealers in the Middle East. The Jaguar does well for us but it does not sell in the same volumes as the Land Rover. With Jaguar we have a broad product range — the XJ, the XF, the F-TYPE and the recent F Pace — that we believe suits our clientele in the Middle East and enables us to reach a large segment of customers.

As for the Land Rover, we do very well with the Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport. The Evoque has continued to grow since its launch in 2010 and the Land Rover Discovery remains popular in the region.

Within MENA, which are your major markets? In how many countries in the region do you sell your products?
We sell our products in 18 markets within the region, the big ones being the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] countries. North Africa, too, plays a key role for us in terms of future development, as do counties like Iraq and Azerbaijan, where we are starting to see an opening up of the market.

How have Land Rover and Jaguar fared in 2014?
We are going from strength to strength in the Middle East; that’s one of the reasons why it is the fifth-largest market for us. Land Rover sales increased by 6 percent in 2014 and the story was similar with Jaguar. We are proud of what we have been able to achieve on sales growth, which has been driven by product investment. We have products that are relevant for the market, we are an important player in the luxury automotive sector, and we outsell our competitors.

Is there a different marketing strategy for MENA, or for certain countries within the region?
In terms of marketing, we follow a global strategy; we take the lead from the centre. I will say, though, that we have to localise, make our products appropriate for the people we are selling to. We recently launched the new ‘mile end’ campaign for Land Rover and this has been well received by the local population. It’s a story about the history and the relationship that Land Rover has in the Middle East; it has struck a chord with our customers.

On Jaguar, we have the same policy as we do with Land Rover. We have a number of marketing campaigns and we make them work for us. If you look at brand awareness, there has been a definite improvement for us over the last two years.

Could you tell us about your engineering test centre in Dubai? Does this centre cater to the entire MENA region or only to vehicles destined for the GCC nations?
Our engineering test centre is one of five test centres that we operate globally and this is a crucial component of future product development at JLR. We will run 20,000km of durability testing every single week in the MENA region this year, of which 2,500km is done off-road, and we will test nearly 17,000 lines of data on our products.

Our engineering test centre is basically working 24x7 at the moment to ensure that our standards are met and the desired technology that comes from the United Kingdom is fit for the purpose. A vehicle won’t go to market anywhere in the world without the required sign-off from the test and engineering centres. Any vehicle that can withstand the heat of testing in the Middle East can stand the heat anywhere else in the world.

JLR had signed a letter of intent for an automotive partnership in Saudi Arabia. Does the company plan to set up a facility in the region?

JLR continues to globalise and expand its footprint around the world. We now have a plant in China and we have recently announced that there will be a plant in Brazil. We are in discussions with the Saudi government regarding opportunities for the JLR brands. We believe that the Middle East is critical to the future success of the organisation.

Could you describe the extent and depth of the company’s sustainability-related activities, especially on the environment, in combating climate change and with community initiatives?
JLR is committed to sustainability activities, whether it be in the way we manufacture and operate our vehicles, or through the end-life of our vehicles. For example, we recently opened an engine plant (in Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom) which has a solar panel roof that is one of the largest of its kind in the world; we are using natural resources to provide power for the plant there.

In our vehicles in the Middle East, we continue to use start-stop operations to minimise emissions and we have committed to certain governments in the region that we will fulfil our emission standards. We are looking at every opportunity, whether through hybridisation or smaller, more efficient engines, to ensure that we have a sustainable business.

What about JLR’s future plans and aspirations for the Middle East?
We will grow our dealer network, as I said, and create employment for more people. Just as importantly, we have a new product coming up shortly in the Jaguar range and in Land Rover, both of which are tailor-made for this market. The Jaguar F Pace, for instance, is a car that will be broad spectrum in terms of its approach. It’s a performance motor vehicle and the Middle East loves performance motor vehicles.

On the Land Rover side, the Range Rover remains strong for us and the Land Rover Sport competes superbly in a segment where we weren’t necessarily represented very well earlier. The Evoque has opened up further opportunity and the Discovery Sport will make us more competitive in the days ahead.

We are excited about what the future holds. And it’s not just us; our importers are excited about the future and they will be investing $5-10 million per site over the next few years to upgrade their facilities, to train and educate their people, and to work with us as partners. There is a tremendous amount of investment being made by JLR and by our importers.

How would you define JLR’s commitment to the region?
Our performance in the Middle East since 2010 has been unrivalled in terms of the competition and we are justifiably proud of it for a number of reasons. One, with regard to our investments in future products, I think we are the envy of a lot of our competitors in the motor industry. Two, we have committed and profitable dealers, and profitability breeds loyalty. Three, JLR is about people and the partners we work with. For us, choosing the right partners has been absolutely vital. Their passion and investments have ensured our success in the Middle East.

We are a part of the Middle East and we are a part of the development here. One of the imperatives is that we involve ourselves in helping and working with local communities. We are involved with the Red Crescent and the Red Cross throughout the region.

Recently we undertook a programme to help educate children within the United Arab Emirates. It was a programme funded by us in conjunction with local governments and it showed our commitment on social uplift, on working with communities to enhance their living standards and the educational ability of the people in those communities. ¨

We remain firmly committed to the Middle East and North Africa. Our dealerships will rise from 43 to 60 in the next two-three years and we expect to create employment for nearly 2,000 people.

This article is a part of the special report on the Tata group's operations in the Middle East and North Africa region in the July 2015 issue of Tata Review:
Tata Sons: An enriching relationship
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