Jaguar Land Rover eyes Slovakia for new plant

LONDON/BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Luxury carmaker Jaguar Land Rover has signed a letter of intent to build a new car plant in Slovakia, a further expansion away from its British manufacturing base as it seeks to boost sales worldwide.

A showroom attendant walks past company logos at a Jaguar Land Rover showroom in Mumbai February 13, 2013. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/Files

The brand, owned by India’s Tata Group since 2008, said it was carrying out a feasibility study for a factory in the western Slovak town of Nitra with the aim of reaching an annual output of up to 300,000 cars over the decade from 2018 when the plant could start production.

A final decision will be made later this year, with the firm currently looking at issues such as costs, logistics and infrastructure.

Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir hailed the decision, saying it was helped by his country being a member of the euro zone, unlike some central European neighbours.

A trade union source told Reuters earlier in the process that Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) was considering the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, with only the latter a euro zone member.

Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski said Slovakia had offered high state subsidies which it would not match.

“Slovakia was ready to pay much more than we could secure in our budget,” he said.

Slovakia’s economy ministry was not immediately available to comment but a ministry source told Reuters the country would offer up to the maximum subsidy possible under EU rules.

JLR said it had turned down other locations in Europe, the United States and Mexico in favour of Nitra because of a strong supply chain and good infrastructure.

It said the facility would play a major role in increasing the number of lightweight aluminium models produced.

The scale of the planned output meant JLR would likely build more than one model, the head of production at consulting firm LMC Automotive Justin Cox said. He said crossover sport-utility vehicles to complement the firm’s F-Pace SUV and popular Defender model would be the most plausible choice.

“My view would be one of the entry level CUVs or these sub F-PACE type vehicles as a possibility alongside something like the Defender,” he said.

The plant would also help to bring down labour costs and reduce reliance on Britain, where JLR had to offer an improved pay and pensions deal last year to avoid strike action.

Slovakia has already attracted Germany’s Volkswagen (VW), South Korea’s Kia and France’s PSA Peugeot Citroen, which build hundreds of thousands of cars in the country.

Nitra is close to the VW and Peugeot plants in a cluster of automotive suppliers, and the region is connected to European markets by rail and highways.

JLR has steadily increased the volumes it builds outside Britain, opening its first overseas manufacturing plant in China in October.

As part of plans to bring production closer to major markets, the firm will open a plant in Brazil in 2016 and signed a manufacturing partnership in July to build models in the Austrian city of Graz.

The firm has benefited from significant investment since it was bought by Tata. Its 2014/15 pretax profits rose to 2.61 billion pounds, double the amount four years ago.

Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague and Pawel Sobczak, Marcin Goettig and Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw; Writing by Costas Pitas; Editing by Jane Merriman and Mark Potter