News : Car production returns to Solihull with new Jaguar XE

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Car production has returned to the former Rover plant in Solihull, West Midlands, with the first new Jaguar XE being built at the facility.

Jaguar XE production has commenced at Solihull
Jaguar XE production has commenced at Solihull

The site has built only Land Rovers since production of the Rover SD1 ceased in 1986, but was subject to a £500 million investment to gear up for the launch of Jaguar’s new compact executive saloon.

The move is reported to have created a further £4 billion investment in the UK automotive supply industry.

The arrival of the XE at the Solihull plant is significant for both the Jaguar and Land Rover brands. The arrival of Jaguar at Lode Lane is the latest step in a significant five year development, in which Solihull’s production has almost trebled and the workforce doubled.

High-tech XE factory is a far cry from the old Land Rover Defender line at Lode Lane
High-tech XE factory is a far cry from the old Land Rover Defender line at Lode Lane

The opening of the new body shop, trim and final assembly facilities represents the largest investment in the Solihull plant in its 70-year history, and was commemorated by employees and significant names in the company’s history. Solihull Operations Director, Alan Volkaerts, was joined by legendary British motor racing driver Sir Stirling Moss OBE and Jaguar’s highly-regarded test driver, Norman Dewis OBE, who developed no less than 25 significant Jaguar cars, along with TV presenter and Land Rover fan, Quentin Willson.

The Rover SD1 was the last car built at Solihull, meaning the XE continues a fine tradition...
The Rover SD1 was the last car built at Solihull, meaning the XE continues a fine tradition…

Speaking at the official opening, Alan Volkaerts said: “This really is an incredibly special day for Jaguar Land Rover and the team here at Solihull, many of whom have witnessed the plant change beyond all recognition in recent times. The arrival of the new Jaguar XE marks a new chapter in the history of this plant and shows the flexibility of our manufacturing operation.

“I speak on behalf of the whole team when I say what an incredible privilege it is to be producing not one, but two of the world’s best-loved motoring brands.”

The start of XE production at the Solihull plant is the first step in making the site a dual-branded manufacturing operation. Earlier this year, Jaguar Land Rover also confirmed that the new Jaguar F-PACE SUV will be built at the site.

Craig Cheetham

A serial impulsive car purchaser, Craig has had his name on over 200 V5s over the past 20 years. 10 per cent of those have been either 800s or Austin Allegros, with between 10 and 20 cars usually owned at any one time. Started out as a local newspaper journalist then worked for car mags including Auto Express, Classic Car Weekly and Land Rover Owner. Worked inside the car industry for a decade as an employee of General Motors, now works for a news distribution agency. Home based, which is dangerously convenient for further irrational heap purchases. Lover of all makes of car since childhood, with a particular leaning towards Austin-Rover... Father of three boys, so hoping to spread the car love. Other passions include rugby union, travelling and eating out.

52 Comments

    • It was actually in the second half of 1981 when production of the Rover SD1 ended at Solihull. The facelifted SD1 was built at Cowley and was announced in January 1982.

  1. I think Jaguar’s move away from using Ford-derived technology to designing its own platforms and engines is immensely exciting for the British car industry. When was the last time there was as comprehensive a range of UK designed saloon cars available to the buying public? I reckon you’d have to go back to the mid-80s with the Metro, Maestro, Montego, SD1 and XJ6 before you get close to the MG3, MG6, XE, XF and XJ. With all the talk recently about MG Rover’s collapse it’s heartening to look at current developments and see that the decades of creative effort that went into designing British cars hasn’t been lost.

    • Absolutely, if we take the constituent parts of what was BL, we now have a successful industry selling everything from small hatchbacks (MG3), premium city cars (MINI), SUVs (LR) up to small-medium-large exec saloons and sportscars (Jag)

      • But no Vans.

        It used to be the case that BLARG Vans (Marina/Ital vans, followed by Maestro vans. Mini and then Metro vans, Sherpa/Freight Rover/LDV etc.) were use all over the place.

        No Ford vans made in the UK any more (in fact, no Ford vehicles at all!)

        Only the Vauxhall/Nissan/Reno range is made in the UK now.

        A whole market virtually ceded to imports.

        • SAIC actually owns the rights to the LDV Maxus and sells them in various countries around the world. It would be good to see them brought back to the UK with final assembly in Longbridge. Not sure how they’d go about selling them though – would MG dealerships be interested in selling vans?

          A little van based on MG3 mechanicals and badged as a Morris might work too. Morris Minor and Mini vans are really sought after at the moment.

      • Well said – Decent cars as well with global appeal (MG excepted)with buyers lining up to pay a premium. The golden age of UK car manufacturing? That would be now.

        • Just because the MG3 is built in China doesn’t mean it should be disowned as a UK product. It has more UK design input than most of the Roverised Hondas and the fact that final assembly is in Longbridge opens up the possibility of introducing more UK-made parts to the cars as sales increase.

          • The MG3 has no final assembly of a MG3 in the UK (unless you count the adding of stickers and murals). It is an insult to those factories genuinely building cars in the UK and damages the prestige of the “UK manufactured” brand in those parts of the world where it really matters. I disown it completely.

  2. Whatever happened to the so called state of the art paint shop that was built for the launch of the SD1 & was responsible for the abyssmal finish of the body shells on those cars? Ironic that a plant such as Cowley which was notoriously antiquated made such a better job of assembling the facelifted SD1s.

    • Given that that paint plant would now be 40 years old I would imagine it was replaced years ago – as would most other industrial installations of a similar age.

        • Browns Lane tracks were replaced in the late 50’s, after a major fire. Most of the ‘new’ stuff came from Standard Triumph.

  3. While cars might not have been made here since the early 80s, it can be argued that Freelander 1 was near enough a ‘car’, owing far more to the Rover parts bin than the larger Land Rover models, and being very much a soft roader!
    Incidentally, after Freelander production moved to Halewood, I presume there must have been a fair bit of empty space at Solihull for the last few years?

    • The Freelander was moved to Halewood to create space to expand Range Rover/Discovery production at Solihull. It was used up immediately. The XE has required another completely new assembly hall rather than taking up anything left by the Freelander.

      • Was that the driver, as I recall that Halewood was well under capacity due to the X-type flopping, and with Solihull quality and productivity not being as good as Halewood’s, production was moved to the more productive factory…

        Freelander was much more of a volume car than the other LR products, so it probably made sense anyway to build it in a factory geared around such products. Indeed I’ve sometimes wondered whether Freelander 1 should have been built at either Longbridge or Cowley…

        • Not sure I’ve read about lower productivity and quality at Solihull over Halewood before. Discovery and Range Rover are more premium than X-Type or Freelander, so maybe it’s the other way round?

          • My recollection is that Ford were horrified by the build quality of the Land Rover products when they took over, whereas Halewood had a very high reputation within the company.

            http://forum.landrovernet.com/archive/index.php/t-173136.html

            The forum from 2009 has some interesting comments

            “It’s no secret that Solihull (despite its improvements under Ford) still has relatively poor productivity and ‘iffy’ labour relations whilst Halewood is one of the most efficient plants in the country. ”

            “Solihull hasn’t done itself any favours with the dire build quality of the Defender, even now coming off the lines with shoddy paint, rusty bellies and leaking like colanders. It’s all a bad hangover from BL and Red Robbo, but once such a culture sets in, it’s very hard to eradicate, even when the original workforce have all long since retired.

            “The D3s, RRs and Sports may be better built, but still seem to get a lot of faults. If production standards are really so much better at Halewood, this might not be a bad thing for the marque or its customers.”

          • One of the first improvements Ford made at Solihull was to stop the track workers taking their lunch in the cars! Another innovation was to stop them smoking in the cars on track!!

          • Yes Graham, it is true. Ford were incredulous. The cars on the track were commonly used as places to eat one’s sandwiches at lunchtime, and smoking in and around cars on the track was common. Ford were shocked at the attitudes and practices found at Solihull (as were BMW before them).

  4. It’s funny looking at the photo of that SD1, in bright yellow!

    Bright colours like yellow are so out of fashion nowadays, except with small ‘cute’ cars like the FIAT 500, the last colour you’d have for an executive car now!

  5. Agree with maestrowoff… most manufacturers colours these days consist of black, grey, silver, dark blue metallics and solid white/red. Red seems to be the only colour included at base price. Even white is optional extra.

    I vividly remember Ford’s 1970’s colour palette… Daytona yellow, orange, bright green, metallic bronze and purple! Happy days.

    • I bought a new red MINI in 2004, so I thought I’d try to spec the modern equivalent on their configuration. Just for fun, you understand. Red is still technically free, but the configurator will automatically add a £1,500 pack of useless options if you insist on red. No options pack, no red!

      Unfortunately, it’s not just those limited to ordering new BMW’s that have a bewildering range of near identical metallic greys to choose from – even nice cars are now affected.

      For instance, I’ll be trying out a new Discovery 4 next weekend and I see from the brochure that I can choose from 3 near itentical shades of metallic grey, along with 6 other shades which aren’t called grey, but might as well be.

      All is not lost though, there’s a nice metallic red and a solid white. The solid white’s very nice and it’s free, but it does make it look a bit like an ice cream van!

      When the SD1 was very first launched they must have bought a lot of yellow as virtually all of the initial cars were yellow!

  6. Looking at the back of the SD1, it’s very early as it’s got the original typeface on the plinth. I don’t know what they printed/painted the “3500” on with, but it seemed to soluble in salt water! Most of the plinths were blank after the first winter.

    Mind you, much of the paint and the actual body of the car seemed to be soluble in salt water, so it wasn’t a long term problem!

    Still one of the nicest looking cars in its class ever though!

  7. The Jaguar XE is definitely the spiritual successor to the Rover SD1

    Dont TATA still own the Rover brand?

      • A lot has changed since the days of British Leyland, thank goodness. Sadly the brilliance of designers such as David Bache and engineers such as Gordon Bashford and Spen King was somewhat diluted by the actions of the British Leyland mentality. The obsession with building cars down to a cost rather than having confidence in capable brands such as Rover and Triumph to charge a reasonable price premium to boost profits. Then there was British Leyland’s decision to bring in workers from other assembly plants to build the SD1 who were not respectful of the ‘Rover way’ established from previous models such as the P5 and P6.

        The SD1 was a promising package styled by someone who was undoubtedly British Leyland’s most talented designer/stylist, although it was let down by so many other factors associated with British Leyland which in turn inflicted the corporation’s other cars introduced in the 1970s.

        What the Jaguar XE does not have is the SD1’s avantegarde styling with a continental verve about it which rewrites the sector’s rulebook – I see healthy references to Audi’s A4 and Saab’s 9-3 in the XE. What it does have, however, is a very skilled team of design engineers who have designed and engineered it, a committed and skilled workforce to assemble it and sufficient funds behind it to ensure it won’t experience the same quality control issues or lack of onwards and upwards opportunities the SD1 experienced.

        • It sounds a bit funny to say it, as it’s a lot bigger, but the XE is in many ways the successor to the Triumph Dolomite (1850 and Sprint), when you consider that the 3 series was the main competitor to the Dolomite in the 1970s, and that the current 3 series is the main competitor to the XE now!

        • I’ve no wish to enter a slanging match. however, the SD1 was a poorly considered and poorly executed disaster for the company. There was no market then for an executive hatchback – and there never has been. The product was a build quality disaster. These issues are simply a matter of record, not opinion. Fortunes were squandered at Solihull to build a car (badly) that nobody wanted. It never even generated enough sales to warrant running an assembly line night shift. It’s best year ran to around 14,000 units. The financial disaster of SD1 effectively ended any hope for major investment at Cowley, Longbridge, or Canley.

          • I wouldn’t say it was ill conceived, it was very well received by the press and buyers but in the early days Rover simply couldn’t produce sufficient cars. By the time production ramped up the quality genie was out of the bottle and people started to turn their backs. Remember in the mid 70s European market anything with a hatchback was considered a good thing and Audi (80/100 avant) and Renault(20/30) certainly had no problems selling hatch back execs. I always thought though that a saloon derivative of the SD1 wouldn’t have done any harm – badged as a Triumph perhaps?

          • It was COTY in 1977.

            And it looked like a Ferrari Daytona. Even little kids at the time got that point.

            A great looking car (and very quick in V8 form), that wasn’t properly production engineered.

          • The simple fact was that the UK Exec Fleet market did not want a Hatchback and the continental market was not significant for anything over 2 Litre at that time.

            Rover were not alone in trying a big Hatchback but I can’t recall any making a big impression in the market.

    • Surely the XF aligns more closely with the market position of the SD1? As noted below the XE is more of a Dolomite successor in terms of range position if not size. The XE would certainly be a successor to the Dolomites planned SD2 replacement if it had ever gone on sale.

    • True it was COTY.

      However just before and after it was the Chrysler Alpine and Horizon.

      Things were bad in the 70’s

  8. Great news- I really hope that the new XE is a success- although it doesn’t appear from pictures to really stand out in the way that jags of old always did (I accept that they need to move on from the retrofied look of yore of course).

    Re the Maxus- I used to drive what I was told was the last Maxus off the line- a luton bodied furniture van. Whilst the Maxus couldn’t really be regarded as a bad van, it really needed development. The clutch and gearchange were very heavy, and the engine lacked flexibility, meaning that you had to use the gears a lot more than in an Iveco Daily, for example. I had to drive it back from a tip run once after I’d stupidly stepped onto the tail lift that was much lower than I thought it was, causing me to fall onto it, lacerating my left arm on the ribbed tail lift and badly jarring my shoulder, that still gives me gyp today. Trying to drive the empty van back making as few gearchanges as possible was a very painful and frustrating experience- you really do need to ram it into gear.

    @Two R8s, I strongly disagree re Mazdas and red paint. I used to park next to an immaculate red G reg 626 that looked showroom fresh. And about 5 years back I owned a Nissan Sunny in equally impressive red paint (yeah, Sunnys are boring, but a very efficient way to get to work and back- they never let you down).

    • I am just going on what I have seen. mazda red paint does fade, so too does that of ford, vw and vauxhall. It seems even Rover enthusiasts don’t like it when Rover is shown to be of superior quality. Some visitor to ARONLINE was upset when I pointed out that BAe benefited from owning Rover Group. I told him (I assume it was a ‘him’) that (according to The Economist) BAe was introduced to quality circles; just-in-time; suggestion boxes and other management techniques in use at Rover Group. Everyone, including BAe management assumed that it would be the other way around. There is a study by MIT which shows that the Rover 75 had less chance of breaking down in the first one or two years due to electrical problems than any mercedes and most Japanese cars.

      • Red paint is in my experience the most expensive of the paints to make and buy, so its quality is often compromised, and so why the Red paint option is often found to be prone to chipping and or fading.

          • Very true, I see a Red(ish)Nova Mk2 I guess around 20 years old parked in Sweden that has clearly lived outside its whole life in their long summers and dark wet and windy winters and it is so pink its nearly white.

  9. One thing I notice.

    Have you seen the Panel Fit on that shiny new yellow SD1 3500, I know things have moved a lot in the last 40 years, but I doubt a Mercedes would have had such large and inconsistent gaps.

    Please let that be a pre-production one.

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