Bruce Robertson, Managing Director, Jaguar Land Rover MENA, speaks to Sunil Kumar Singh on the future of self-driving cars in the Middle East and more.
How would you describe Jaguar Land Rover’s journey so far in the Middle East?
Despite all the talk about a slowdown, I believe the region is still growing fast and most of the countries are investing heavily in infrastructure development. Jaguar Land Rover has a long history and a strong heritage in the region.
In recent years, we’ve done particularly well in terms of expanding our network, launching new products in the regional market and pushing up the sales volume. Jaguar Land Rover has been a market leader in the region in many aspects, and we believe we’ll continue to see growth in the region in the future, driven by our strong dealership network.
Many automobile companies are having a tough time in the region, with sales volumes going down. How has your performance been so far?
We are not different either and, in fact, if any auto company says it’s different, it’s perhaps not telling the truth. Having said that, in some respects, we consider ourselves more fortunate than most of our peers in the region.
For one, we’ve been able to expand our range of products, which has allowed us to grow our market share. In essence, we’ve gained market share even in a declining market.
Nonetheless, our sales figures have been impacted, though it’s difficult to share the exact figures because of confidentiality reasons. Despite that, we are ahead of the market in terms of our performance relative to the overall decline.
What are your predictions for this year? Will the market recover?
Market volatility is not new to the region and car manufacturers need to reassess and adjust their position according the changing market conditions. To be realistic, I think we’re not going to see a much recovery in the market in 2018.
We will, however, see a level of stability and, hopefully, we won’t see a further decline. As long as there is political stability in the region, it will continue to drive economic stability.
What is the core of your business strategy in the region — is it the focus on new products or something else?
We believe that, in difficult times, an organization should continue investing in its business, so it can be well-prepared when the good times come. We haven’t cut costs and have continued to invest in new products and in streamlining our customer-focused services across the region. Last year alone, we invested nearly £1.5 billion on new products.
The Saudi Arabian economy, as is the case with its neighbors, is going through a rough patch. Is this forcing you to renegotiate dealership terms?
Absolutely not, as we continue to emphasize on customer satisfaction, sustainability and profitability. We are very happy with our business partners in Saudi Arabia, as they continue to represent the Jaguar Land Rover brand very well in the Kingdom.
Not only in Saudi Arabia, we are also aiming to expand our dealership network across the region, from 40 currently to roughly 60 by 2020. Currently, the UAE continues to be the largest market in the Middle East in terms of volume.
What are your plans for electric and autonomous vehicles?
Jaguar Land Rover is actively involved in the development of electric and autonomous cars and, within the next ten years, we will have all of our vehicles fitted with electric or self-driving technology.
How optimistic are you for the Saudi market, especially when women have been allowed to drive from this year?
Saudi is the largest vehicle market in the region. Hopefully, this year, we will see improvement in the economic environment of the kingdom that will, in turn, encourage growth of the overall automobile market. Having said that, the decision to allow women to drive is a very positive step. Women in the kingdom have traditionally been involved in the car purchasing process, so I don’t believe the decision to allow women to drive will see significant increase in vehicle sales.
On a broader scale, we believe this is not just about selling cars, but a harbinger of a fundamental change in the Saudi society. For, Saudi Arabia will see an increase in the number of women teaching in the driving schools, lady test drivers, driving schools only for women and so on. Besides, this decision will also generate huge employment opportunities. This is why we believe this decision will have a much more socio-economic impact than just commercial.