Britain’s biggest car-maker Jaguar Land Rover has signalled its electric future – and created sparks of its own – by choosing ousted Renault boss Thierry Bollore as its next chief executive.
Seen by many as a surprise and unexpected choice, it marks an incredible bounce-back for Bollore who will take over at JLR – owned by Indian conglomerate Tata – on September 10.
Announcing his arrival, the 57 year old pledged to lead the UK manufacturer through ‘the most testing time of our generation’.
JLR’s new French boss: Britain’s biggest car-maker has signalled its electric future – and created sparks of its own – by choosing ousted Renault boss Thierry Bollore as its next chief executive
Bollore hails from Brittany in France and studied for an MBA at Paris Dauphine University.
Among the most pressing items in his in-tray are the challenge to return Britain’s biggest car maker to profit after a big hit from the Covid-19 pandemic and a concern about sales in one of its biggest markets – China – at a time of international tension.
But Bollore’s experience of electric powered cars, charging networks, and changing patterns of mobility – where future generations may use vehicles but may not own them – gleaned at Renault and through family links is likely to have been a strong suit in his appointment against a strong line up of rival external and internal candidates.
He also has a track record of working in the automotive industry in China where, in the current political climate, JLR may feel exposed.
He also has a proven track record for quality control of outputs, with the British brand infamous for making less-than-reliable motors, which tend to prop-up the dependability standings in owners surveys.
Bollore is a cousin of French billionaire Vincent Bollore, whose family owned investment firm Bollore, has big interests in electric car and charging networks, including providing those for the UK capital, though its Bluecity car-share scheme in London ended in January after poor take-up.
His wide ranging international experience on many Continents – but particularly China – should stand him in good stead.
Among the most pressing items in his in-tray are the challenge to return Britain’s biggest car maker to profit after a big hit from the Covid-19 pandemic and a concern about sales in one of its biggest markets – China – at a time of international tension
Bollore’s experience of electric powered cars, charging networks, and changing patterns of mobility gleaned at Renault and should help JLR progress with its electrification plans
In the wake of its award-wining battery powered I-Pace SUV, Jaguar has an all-electric flagship XJ saloon is in the pipeline and Jaguar Land Rover is set to accelerate electrification across its entire range of vehicles including 4X4s.
There are also plans for a crossover ‘RoadRover’ – a hybrid between a coupe and an SUV based around a Land Rover.
JLR has a partnership with BMW on electrification and parent company Tata Motors recently recommitted to the company.
Bollore replaces outgoing CEO Dr Sir Ralf Speth, an anglophile German former BMW executive who took UK citizenship, whose tenure ends after more than a decade and who takes up the previously announced position of non-executive vice chairman.
Bounce-back Bollore: He was CEO at Renault for just 8 months before being ousted when Carlos Ghosn, who presided over the global alliance between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi, went on the run
Bollore replaces outgoing CEO Dr Sir Ralf Speth, an anglophile German former BMW executive who took UK citizenship
The appointment does mark a remarkable come-back and second-chance for Bollore took over at Renault in January 2019 but was ousted after just eight months in the job following the fall of now fugitive car boss Carlos Ghosn – who fled from Japan to the Lebanon in a spectacular escape to evade criminal corruption charges there.
He was always viewed as close to the French carmaker’s long-time boss Ghosn – hailed as having turned around ailing Nissan as part of an alliance with Renault – and was pushed out in October when it looked for a fresh start after the Ghosn scandal.
He had joined Renault in 2012 as executive vice-president for manufacturing and rapidly climbed the corporate ladder.
That followed a seven year stint from 2005 with car parts manufacturer Faurecia, much of it spent in China.
He started his career in 1990 with French tyre giant Michelin and gained rapid promotions, latterly from 2002 Vice President in charge of industry for Michelin Aircraft Business worldwide, joining Renault in 2005.
Bollore has a track record of working in the automotive industry in China where, in the current political climate, JLR may feel exposed
In the wake of its award-wining battery powered I-Pace SUV (pictured), Jaguar has an all-electric flagship XJ saloon is in the pipeline and Jaguar Land Rover is set to accelerate electrification across its entire range of vehicles including 4X4s
In a statement issued by JLR, Bolore said: ‘It will be my privilege to lead this fantastic company through what continues to be the most testing time of our generation.’
He added: ‘Renowned for their passion and spirit, the people of Jaguar Land Rover are the driving force behind its success. I couldn’t be more excited to join the team continuing to shape the future of this iconic company.’
JLR was hit this year first by disruption to sales in China and then by lockdowns across Europe and North America as the coronavirus outbreak spread around the globe.
Electric Jaguar XJ put on hold as JLR puts clamp on spending
JLR has already been forced to delay production of its new flagship electric XJ model as the firm stopped all no-essential spending as it burned through its cash reserves.
It is now unlikely the battery-powered XJ will be launched before October 2021 as it focuses on keeping afloat.
It is set to be built at its Castle Bromwich factory in Birmingham, which also builds the sluggishly selling XE and XF saloons, which are likely themselves to be reborn as electric crossovers.
In the midst of production slow-downs and factory closures caused by the Corona virus, JLR is currently prioritising production of its most lucrative models – new Land Rover Defender and Range Rovers – to help boost cash flow.
Although it has been talking to government ministers about securing a cash bailout from the Project Birch fund, insiders have suggested that the terms – including tough targets on emissions – may be too onerous at a time when firms are simply trying to survive.
In 2019, it cut jobs to address tumbling diesel sales, which helped it return to profit. But as the pandemic struck, it slumped to a pre-tax loss of £422million pounds for the year ended March 31, 2020.
The company has already taken steps to tackle the crisis, including agreeing a loan facility of around £700 millionwith lenders in China and further staff reductions.
It is also in talks with the British government over potential support.
Bollore takes over a business that built just over 500,000 cars in 2019/20. He faces a number of tasks, including how to handle the Jaguar brand, which under-performs the Land Rover marque, how quickly to electrify its line-up and any potential hit from Brexit if trade barriers are imposed.
Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons, Tata Motors and Jaguar Land Rover PLC said of departing CEO Dr Sir Ralf Speth: ‘I want to thank Ralf for a decade of outstanding vision and leadership for Jaguar Land Rover and welcome him to his new Non-Executive position in addition to his existing role on the board of Tata Sons.’
Earlier this month he said: ‘Tata Group recognises and values Jaguar Land Rover’s future potential highly. That is why this company is central to our global automotive presence – a presence that we intend to develop for years to come.’