British models muscle in at Detroit show

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The Independent Online

UK car manufacturers are putting on an aggressive performance at the motor industry's premier annual showcase in Detroit, with models from Jaguar, Land Rover and Rolls-Royce all being heavily promoted.

Thousands of British manufacturing jobs depend on the companies being able to generate an early buzz for their new products, but the flex of marketing muscle also represents renewed confidence in the brands by their overseas owners.

Ford lavished money and stage time on its Premier Automotive Group (PAG) - which includes Jaguar and Land Rover, as well as Aston Martin, which is close to being sold - to give an extravagant debut to the new Land Rover LR2. The vehicle is being built at Jaguar's Halewood factory on Merseyside.

Lewis Booth, the chairman of Ford Europe, arrived on stage at the Cobo auditorium in downtown Detroit in the LR2, which launches in the US in the spring, and announced that Land Rover would have another record sales year in 2007 and be profitable for the third consecutive year. The company sold 190,000 vehicles in 2006, up 4 per cent. He said Land Rover would contribute to "a much improved performance from PAG".

PAG has concentrated manufacturing of the new Land Rover alongside Jaguar at Halewood in an effort to improve the efficiency of the businesses. When Ford put the future of all its brands up for review last year, it was widely predicted that the loss-making Jaguar could only be sold as a "job lot" with its profitable sister company. Alan Mulally, the Ford chief executive, said at the weekend that the companies were not up for sale.

Workers at Jaguar will be able to take confidence in the high-octane launch given to the new XF, which was unveiled here in concept form, but which is close to production and is expected to replace the current Jaguar S-Type from next year. The car was well received in early feedback from journalists, who praised its sleeker, almost feline silhouette.

Ian Callum, Jaguar's design director, promised a marketing campaign for the XF that would reclaim what he said were the company's traditional values as a well-designed luxury sports car maker. "I use the word sports advisedly," he said. "It is our mantle, and we are having it back."

Rolls-Royce, which is owned by BMW, hopes that a convertible version of its Phantom - being made in Goodwood - will cause a spike in sales, which have been stagnant for three years. BMW said Rolls-Royce sales rose just 1.1 per cent in 2006 to 805 units, compared to 792 in 2004, the first full year of sales for the existing Phantom.

Ian Robertson, the Rolls-Royce chief executive, unveiled the convertible late yesterday, predicting it would be a hit in Beverly Hills, where the company traditionally sells most vehicles. However, he revealed Tokyo is now equalling California. London is third.

Mr Robertson said that 2006 saw the highest sales of the Rolls-Royce in the last 16 years. The company has expanded in Asia, with plans to take its outlets in China to six this year, and is looking to launcha smaller, more affordable Rolls-Royce at the end of the decade.

Another of BMW's UK subsidiaries, Mini, was also revealing new designs yesterday, including its redeveloped Mini Cooper.