Behind the scenes of special operations Jaguar Land Rover car

Jaguar SVO 2019 - hanger

Attractive all-terrain vehicle changes color dramatically from different angles

JLR's hand in CBO does some amazing things. We visit its state-of-the-art, first-hand base

Your first thought when you step into Jaguar and Land Rover's £20 million special operations vehicle at Ryton-on-Dunsmore, just outside Coventry, is that you've arrived at the team's Formula 1 headquarters lobby.

The place has the same wall, the modern stylish, new piece of industrial architecture, the same auras of efficiency of the grand prix forensic team, and the distinct feeling that nothing happens here by chance or just over time.

But while F1 teams make a half dozen cars a year and don't build an engine, this place handles the means-invisibly. Managing director Michael van der Sande says JLR's job is to take JLR's already powerful and luxurious models and “strengthen” their features, at times “turning them up to 11”.

Among premium car manufacturers, there is a strong demand for custom and specialized vehicles, which currently seems to be defying economic cycles. BMW has its Alpina and Mercedes has its AMG, and in this place, where Peugeot having built numerous inconspicuous 206s, specialist Jaguars and Land Rovers, now start their lives.

CWO builds several different types of special vehicles. To put it bluntly, there is unequivocally stated an extremely valuable type, which includes wholesale reengineering, intricate paintings and often lengthening and armoring to meet some ultra-wealthy client whims.

That is the most common type, the production of UVO models, whose extended packages also allow them to be on JLR's regular production lines; Range Rover Sport SVR and Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic are good examples. Such machines, approximately 10 of them per year, do not need to specifically drive through the new CBO technical center because they are built to accommodate JLR's regular assembly processes.

And somewhere in the middle are these breeds of standard cars whose owners only desire special paint: CBO processes about 5000 a year and JLR's innovative robotic plant, smart ovens, claims to save up heating to power 65,560 homes a year. The quality is extremely high.

CB model production lines may be built on CBO premises, but they are still very much the concern of van der Sande and his CTO, Jamal Hameedi, whose impressive pedigree includes time as global road engineering chief, responsible for vehicles including RTS and the latest GT. They decide first of all exactly what is profitable and strong-selling UVO cars will be liked, and then they develop them.

The CBO's contribution to the earnings group is described by van der Sande as "very significant," although no one inside or outside the group will give exact numbers. It's obvious, and will become clearer as we walk around, that this is a very high margin business. The most tuned cars we come across, some kept secret until their owners see them for the first time, are akin to works of art, and therefore can take several months to prepare.

If you are a serious customer order here for a visit, you will probably be accompanied by someone from your local dealer. After signing in, you turn right out of the foyer into a luxurious designer suite where you can see, touch, feel, smell paint samples and finishes, fascia textures and badgework. This is where you propose and layout - on a giant digital configurator - your desired vehicle. “People can spend up to half a day here,” says van der Sande. “We encourage them to do so. And we often offer one of our designers to help with the selection. Customers tend to find their offers helpful.”

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Do customers always insist on bad choices? According to designer Adam Hutton, who has particular experience with custom projects, this is rare. “Clients have pronounced likes and dislikes,” he says, “but they are rarely Adamant. We advise them, nothing more. On rare occasions, we may aggressively discourage someone from making choices we think they will regret. But we have to understand our priorities - that some seemingly strange choices work better in different cultures and light than in the UK.

“That's one of the reasons why we usually have a quality rendering issue. They show what the car will be like with pretty good accuracy and they are especially handy for people who can't come to Coventry.”

Behind the design studio is a spacious, richly curtained meeting room, all carpeted and plush sofas, where clients can relax, mingle with their experts and dine on specially trained chef Graham Edwards, a former protégé of Raymond Blanc, whose job it is to create dishes, which are suitable for customers from all over the world. As well as a separate meeting room, this can be a great viewing room: the curtains roll back to reveal floor-to-ceiling glass display walls in the well-lit expanses of the 20,000-square-meter building vehicle technology center bays.

Just over the last few Jaguar XE's in the NE project were 8 super-sedans from a promised batch of 300 to be delivered. This car by van der Sande is a quiet pride and joy, not only because its 592bhp supercharged V8 engine makes it the most powerful road-going Jaguar in history, but also because of the massive redesign it entailed.

“It's very different from the base car,” he says proudly. “We even had to move the headlights forward to make a little more space. Project 8 is a fully centered track car; only the hood is unchanged. We dialed everything else up to 11…”

The Van der Sande 8 project looks like the perfect demonstration that the CWO is simply well-equipped for integrated design for both amazing finishes and paint perfectionism. “You learn tremendously from projects like this,” he explains. “They test the limits of the design. The lessons we learned from the sealed aerodynamic design of the 8th floor are already included in the equipment of the next generation model…”

Past this Project 8C lineup, we turn right, peering into well ordered build bays where major projects are being carried out under the hands of technicians whose very body language tells you they are the best in the business.

On one side is an armored Range Rover Guardian with a reinforced floor and two-inch-thick armored screens and side windows. They weigh four tons in curb while still being able to jump curbs and really accelerate really fast.

Across the wide aisle is perhaps the most attractive Range Rover I've seen, a brilliantly black top but with an unusual metallic color on the lower flanks that vary from a glowing greenish yellow to a more muted grey. It costs £15 in-house, I find out, and when you examine the flawless edges and shiny surface, you can see where all that money is.

This car by Ryton is much more than a painting. It's completely re-trimmed and fitted with a beautifully engineered CWO rear console (the work of the Hameedi team) that contains all sorts of storage spaces, screens, switches and air vents. It's about as expensive as paint, by our estimates, as long as there's a demand for 800 to 900 of them each year.

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“You don't just build that console and throw it in the car,” explains van der Sande. “You test endlessly its functions, then you are suitable for testing cars and subjecting it to a difficult test path. After that, it might be ok.

“Cars designed for basic work come to us as primed and painted bodies,” he continues. “We color them, build them and match their intricate body parts. It takes two weeks to paint and five or six weeks to build. And for the most difficult assignments, like this one, you may need six to eight weeks. We estimate five months for such work and then try to beat it by a week or two.”

How does Van der Sande look to the future of car personalization? Demand is strong, he believes, but the challenge is to meet rising customer quality standards while slowly growing. The launch of the new line-cause UVO models is another concern, the reason the company started at the top of its price list with the Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic, Range Rover Sport SVR and Jaguar F-Type Project 7 was that the profit potential would be very generous. Even the most recent pairs, the Jaguar F-Pace SVR and the Range Rover SVAutobiography Velar, costing £75,000 or more have additionally been factored in.

Would a CWO ever be a Range Rover SVR Evoque? This is possible, allows van der Sande, but not in the short term. CBO is limited in how fast its engineering team can grow.

“We are in a deliberate period of slow growth,” he says. “We want to build a solid foundation and we count it as you do it.”

The boss who "always wants to deliver"

Michael van der Sande, managing director of CWO, has taken a more interesting path than most before entering the job he loves. Dutch by birth, his mother and grandmother were rally drivers and one of his first girlfriends was a Ford dealer. As a child, he made the key decision to pursue a career with cars and arrived in the UK 25 years ago, landing in a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce at Crewe. From there he began a 12-year marketing career with Harley-Davidson, working at the firm's US headquarters in Milwaukee, as well as in Africa and the UK. He then took a year posting with Tesla as global director of sales and marketing, before moving on to Aston Martin "at the depths of the crisis", but still helped launch the Rapid and One-77. He then spent five years in Paris with Renault, working closely with design boss Lawrence van den Acker, before launching Alert for two and a half years. In June 2018, he started at CWO, which he calls the coolest job of all. “When you're passionate about something,” he says, “you always want to deliver.”

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