As PR and Social Media Manager for Jaguar Land Rover in our region, Salman Sultan has a dream job representing these renowned luxury brands. The Middle East has a special relationship with Range Rover in particular, and Sultan is one of the guardians of that enduring bond. Meanwhile, over in American JLR’s former owner, Ford, is scuttling all but two passenger cars from its lineup as JLR continues to push for broader horizons in its Tata era. With that in mind, we sat down with the man himself to see what JLR has cooking, and what he foresees for the brands in the rapidly transforming space that is the car industry.
- How would you define your outlook on where the auto industry is headed in the years to come?
The automotive industry as a whole is on a journey to create the car of the future, a car that is more capable, cleaner, smarter and more connected. This journey began 18 years ago when Jaguar was the first in the market to introduce Adaptive Cruise Control in the XK in the 1990s.
Jaguar Land Rover is embracing the new world of electrification and we in the Middle East are also focused on delivering against our global vision. As one of the leading automotive manufacturers in the world, we are recognising these trends and reacting to them by pioneering electric vehicle technologies in our own Jaguar Land Rover way, and implementing them in our region.
Whether we are talking about vehicles that are fully electric, plug-in hybrid or mild hybrid vehicles, they are all key to the future of mobility and the automotive industry. The MENA region is renowned for its early adopters, and as such it is key we keep up pace with the needs, expectations and requirements of our discerning customers.
We have an exciting product portfolio coming to the region in 2018 and beyond. Customer Service is another great focus area for us as selling cars is one thing, and providing premium customer service is another.
- With all these changes happening within the automotive space, how do you see this impacting the luxury car segment?
There are changes happening in the industry but I think that even our concept of, ‘what is luxury?’ is also changing. So we have to be flexible to adapt.
Defining a luxury car of 30 years ago meant that we talked about high quality leather and automatic climate air-conditioning which are tangible items whereas today, luxury is also includes elements that involve connectivity and ‘what the car can do for you’ in order for you to extract more from your day.
Time has also become a luxury in today’s business lifestyle, and so I think in the future, this will be enhanced with autonomous and connected vehicles, giving us more freedom to interact with each other instead of just commuting from point A to point B.
Luxury cars, no matter what form they may take, are premium, and special products, often limited in numbers and tailored by craftsmen to the specific needs of their clients and so like a fine suit, there will always be room for luxury vehicles.
- Are you finding that movement from the bigger technology players (Google, Apple, etc.) are having an impact on the auto industry of late, both from a consumer standpoint, and from wanting to get into the self-driving car game?
It’s an interesting point as you start to wonder, at what stage do IT and Technology companies become auto manufacturers or vice versa.
I think now, after quite a few years of development from those companies, we’re discovering that Silicon Valley is finding it a little harder than it imagined to get into the car manufacturing business.
For sure, those businesses are providing a vital role in the next phase of car development and we’re working with them all, but producing a car from scratch is not a simple task. From the foundry that makes the steel to the manufacturing, mechanical engineering, safety, build quality and comfort takes a lot of people with a lot of very different skillsets.
They are our partners who play a pivotal role in developing certain technologies which they test under real-world conditions, which is amazing, but I think it will be quite some time before you can buy a car built from the ground up, entirely by a technology company without the partnership of an automotive manufacturer.
- On the self-driving topic, how do you see autonomous driving impacting the luxury segment in the long run?
The luxury car segment will see early adopters of the new technology and so you can imagine that the first fully autonomous cars will have interiors configured for luxury or business travel.
Additionally, luxury cars in the major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, London Dubai and New York also cater for a chauffeur-driven clientele where parking is near impossible and so those who prefer being driven around, do so to make sure they get around as efficiently as possible, without spending time on looking for parking.
One will probably first see fully autonomous cars in the chauffeured car segment so in that regard there could be little to no negative impact on the luxury segment as they will complement what we now refer to as luxury cars by providing the same functions as a chauffeured car.
The highest level of autonomy, level five, will be able to drop you at your door then circle and find a parking spot on its own elsewhere before coming back to collect you, much like a limousine driver would do now.
- Are you taking advantage of that duality right now with your daily driver?
As it stands right now, in the MENA region, the automotive industry is still in its early years to fully be in a position to activate what is currently the highest level of autonomy which is level three, so unfortunately no.
Level three is the first stage where the car takes responsibility and you can for short periods of time, let it drive you on dual carriageways, but it also requires the use of standardised road signs, lane markings and other things which the car reads, that have not been implemented in this region yet.
There is of course level two which is what many new car buyers are familiar with now such as intelligent/adaptive cruise control that keeps you at a safe distance from the car in front and lane assist which helps keep the car in its lane and park assist where you hand over the parking duties to the car.
Those are all available in our range of vehicles, and so yes, I take advantage of those as much as possible when I drive one of our Jaguar or Land Rover products
- Do you think there’s always going to be a place out there for the, shall we call it the “manually driven”car?
Our Autonomous Urban Drive research is Jaguar Land Rover’s next step in our development of both fully and semi-autonomous vehicle technologies. However, we aren’t looking at simply replacing the driver, and making cars ‘driverless’. Future technologies will give the driver more not less – as they will assist and ultimately enhance the driving experience.”
- If there’s one car that you’d love to have in your garage permanently, what would it be?
If I had to pick one car to have permanently, it would be the Range Rover Sport SVR. The Range Rover Sport SVR, is design-enabling technology is central to Range Rover Sport's desirability, from its Touch Pro Duo infotainment system to the Pixel LED lights for greater visibility and higher definition.
The new SVR derivative, takes the Range Rover Sport into new territory. Ultimate performance with Power up to 575hp, delivering the 0-60mph sprint in only 4.3 seconds, while bold design revisions and the increased use of carbon fibre (which I honestly love) construction making the new SVR more dramatic, faster and more agile.