COVENTRY, England -- Jaguar Land Rover says its new UK r&d center will play a key role in helping it compete with premium rival brands such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
The automaker said Tuesday it plans to invest 50 million pounds (59 million euros) in the new center in central England and increase its r&d research staff by 150 to 500 by the time the facility opens in 2016.
The new center will push the automaker to the forefront of innovation, JLR Director of Research and Technology Wolfgang Epple said.
"In order to play among the big animals in automotive and to be anchored in the mind of customers you have to have offered something unique, to be first in market," he told Automotive News Europe. "We want to be one of the key premier automotive manufacturers."
The new National Automotive Innovation Campus will be based at Warwick University in Coventry, central England, and will cost a total of 94 million pounds. The remainder of the money will come from the Tata Motors European Technical Center, Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) and the UK government's Higher Education Funding Council.
The chairman of WMG, Kumar Bhattacharyya, said the new center will be the first of its kind in the UK to fully link advanced manufacturer research with higher education.
"If you look at BMW and Mercedes, they have a symbiotic relationship with universities. They put huge sums of money into it to do state-of-the-art r&d," he told Automotive News Europe.
Bhattacharyya, who is a friend of Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata and was one of the key players in Tata's purchase of JLR from Ford Motor Co. in 2008, said the increased r&d capability would help Jaguar and Land Rover better compete. "They will be right there at the top," he said.
JLR is lacking r&d facilities at the moment, said research boss Tony Harper. "We are doing bits of advanced research, but because the company is growing, a lot of our internal capacity is being taken up by the development needs of engineering, such as durability testing," he told Automotive News Europe.
He said access to r&d was severely reduced when Ford sold the company to Tata, hampering the company in its rivalry with the German brands. "BMW has very significant resources. I'm envious of the budget and staff of my opposite number there," he added.
Harper said the new center will innovate by including suppliers in the r&d process. "If you go into a car company, there will be suppliers in the building, but they'll be working on the latter stages of something about to go on a product, they won't be working on new and innovative ideas at the front end. It's that bit that's quite new," he said.
Suppliers will range in size from large companies such as Robert Bosch, as well as smaller technology firms.
JLR said that the r&d center will focus on five key areas: engines including hybrids and electric, connectivity, autonomous vehicles, on- and off-road handling, and design.
Construction of the new center is scheduled to start in September 2014.