Q&A With Tata's COO Carl-Peter Forster

By Karl Brauer October 15, 2010

As niche premium brands in a struggling world economy, it's not unreasonable to assume both Jaguar and Land Rover face a challenging future at best, an uncertain one at worst.

Tata COO Carl-Peter Forster at Jaguar C-X75 Paris auto show reveal 9-2010.JPGBut you wouldn't know it after speaking with the brands' COO, Carl-Peter Forster of India-based Jaguar/Land Rover owner Tata Motors. Tata purchased the iconic British nameplates on March 26, 2008, and Forster joined the company in February of this year after leaving General Motors Co. as president of General Motors Europe. Forster is in charge of not only Jaguar- Land Rover but all of Tata's products worldwide, including trucks and all cars, a total of 1.2 million units a year.

With Ratan Tata, a certified "car guy" sitting at the top of the org chart, the pressure on Forster to strengthen Jaguar and Land Rover is undeniable. We sat down with him at the recent Paris Auto Show to discuss the future of these brands and how he'll define success in the coming years.

AO: Where does Tata see Jaguar-Land Rover fitting into the Indian market?

Forster: There's a small segment of very well-off people. The market for premium cars is about 15,000 units a year, though it's growing very fast.

AO: Any growth opportunities for Tata brands, other than Jaguar-Land Rover, in the United States?

Forster: I think that is one of the markets we would target last. It's a very sophisticated and very demanding market for smaller cars. The competition there is already quite high. There are so many opportunities in developing markets I would say we are probably not targeting the U.S. or Europe early on.

Jaguar C-X75 concept car rear view.jpgAO: How can a brand like Jaguar, without a single model priced less than $50,000, hope to build its volume against competitors like Audi and BMW in the U.S.?

Forster: I have experience in the lower-end segments, and it's increasingly more difficult to make money as we all know by now. It's not a need. It's not a necessity. We should look at it as an opportunity. If we can create a feasible business case, fine. But we are not compelled to do it (increase U.S.-market sales). We're not going for growth for the sake of growth. It's profit growth, not volume growth.

AO: What areas of growth will you focus on in the next 2-3 years?

Forster: We have to basically ramp up our product development capability by 50 percent. How do we do that at Jaguar-Land Rover without losing quality and precision and execution? That's a big challenge.

AO: How involved is Mr. Tata in the business of developing Jaguar-Land Rover products?

Forster: He's quite involved. He would like to understand exactly what we're doing. He's coming over frequently, monthly. Not micromanaging, but involved. And really encouraging.

AO: The platforms you're using now were primarily developed by Jaguar-Land Rover's previous owners (Ford and BMW, respectively). Are you planning to develop new platforms in-house, and will aluminum-intensive structures continue to be a part of that equation

Forster: Basically, yes. With electric power gaining popularity you will see the economics favoring more lightweight technology. So we are glad we own the technology. We have developed it to a maturity that gives us good quality at low cost. We'll roll it out to other car lines. Possibly the next-generation Range Rover will be aluminum.

AO: How distinctive will you keep the two brands? Could there ever be a Jaguar SUV or Land Rover wagon?

Land Rover Evoque paris motor show 2010.jpgForster: One mistake would be to say there's so much demarcation between the brands we don't allow some reaching into the other's territory.

In principal one shouldn't do that, because people are either attracted to Land Rover or to Jaguar. But there are certain areas where they could come quite close. There are a lot of people who own both, by the way, but there's little overlap. A Range Rover Evoque as a Jaguar? No. But a crossover-ish vehicle for Jaguar? If you ask me I wouldn't say categorically, "No."


Photos by Jaguar-Land Rover

1. Tata Motors COO Carl-Peter Forster at the 2010 Paris motor show.

2. Jaguar C-X75 concept car was the acknowledged star of the 2010 Paris motor show

3. Land Rover Range Rover Evoque concept car is an Range Rover coupe targeted for urban environments.

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