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Land Rover Sets Sights on Asia Following Strong 2010

Although India is home to parent auto maker Tata Motors, it likely will be several years before sales in the country are substantial, executive John Edwards says.

DETROIT – Tata Motors Ltd.’s U.K.-based Land Rover division saw a surprising good year in 2010, in which sales grew 25%.

The result has encouraged the brand to open its fifth complete-knocked-down assembly plant in India and begin planning another CKD facility in China, where sales more than doubled last year.

Land Rover had planned on a 10% increase in worldwide sales last year, John Edwards- global brand manager, says at the North American International Auto Show here, noting he expects that growth to continue in 2011.

Over the years, Land Rover has had CKD operations in 40 countries. Today, it is active in Pakistan, Kenya, Turkey and Malaysia, and Indian activities will begin in the year’s first quarter.

But although India is home to Jaguar Land Rover parent Tata, it likely will be several years before sales in the country are substantial, Edwards says.

“When we look forward, India is clearly an opportunity for us,” he says. “Our parent company is an institution in India. But in the short term, for the next two or three years, the volumes are going to be quite low.

“There is a lot of wealth there,” he adds, “but (consumers) are not going to be spending that wealth on cars, unlike China and Russia.”

Edwards says Tata CEO Ratan Tata has an emotional investment in the Land Rover and Jaguar brands, but the parent company’s management of the British brands is indirect.

“It’s very different than with Ford (Motor Co.) or BMW (AG),” he says, referring to previous owners of the two brands that each had their own approaches.

“The Tata approach is very hands off. They are interested, and they look for a return. They are supportive, but challenging. Before, we could blame Ford or BMW, but now it is our own business.”

Already, Edwards says, JLR has given Tata four straight quarters of financial returns, but success truly will be measured when the brands begin to introduce new products each year.

Edwards, who has worked at Land Rover for a decade, took his new position in December.

JLR is getting some assistance from the U.K. in terms of research programs that are helping the brands develop future technologies, including hybrids and vehicle-weight reduction.

“Increasingly, my view is that the government is recognizing the importance of a balanced economy and a balanced portfolio,” says Edwards. “That works in our favor, because we are the last major car manufacturer in the U.K. and (the government) absolutely does not want that to disappear.”

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