Jaguar Land Rover has announced plans for a new division devoted to high-performance, ultra-luxurious versions of the company's cars, bespoke trim and personalisation options, and the expansion of the brands' heritage departments.
Called Special Operations, the new arm will employ 500 staff in a purpose-built facility in the West Midlands and develop high-end, high-cost editions for what JLR calls 'our most discerning and enthusiastic customers'.
Led by former Land Rover brand boss John Edwards, the new division's main two activities will be SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) and vehicle personalisation. Edwards says SVO - in effect a replacement for the Engineered to Order brand that developed the XKR-S GT - will make 'high-performance vehicles that showcase the best of both brands' and that the personalisation division will offer 'truly bespoke commissions and an extended range of colour and trim specifications'.
SVO will be led by former Williams engineer Paul Newsome, who worked with Jaguar on the stillborn C-X75 sports car project; it's thought that Jaguar Land Rover wants to use the firm to develop exclusive models for lucrative markets like Russia, China and the Middle East.
The new Technical Centre will include a customer facility where buyers will be able to consult engineers and designers as they spec up their vehicles, and a high-tech paint shop that will be able to offer a wider variety of shades and finishes than the regular production line. JLR has not announced any of the models that SVO will develop initially, or even a date for their arrival - but the forthcoming Goodwood Festival of Speed would be an ideal showcase in front of well-heeled clients.
The new division is expected to launch with heavily modified editions of existing models from the Jaguar and Land Rover line-ups. However, JLR's chief executive Dr Ralf Speth told What Car? that the 150 SVO staff will also need to have input into future mainstream models (including, most likely, the BMW 3 Series-rivalling Jaguar XE). Mercedes' performance arm AMG already has influence in the design and development of regular vehicles.
'It makes sense for that to happen,' said Speth. 'Of course they are a separate division but we can't just give them products and expect them to develop extra-special versions from models that they've had no input into. There are engineering reasons for it to be this way.'
The Special Operations division will also have responsibility for expanding the servicing and restoration of heritage vehicles (starting with six 'new' lightweight E-Type Jaguars) at a facility in Browns Lane, Coventry and developing branded goods - everything from clothing and technology tie-ins to die-cast models.