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How Jaguar Land Rover plans to lead the way on future car tech

We go behind the scenes at Jaguar Land Rover as we find out how it plans to become a pioneer in car technology

As the car and technology industries get ever-closer, the prospect of your brand-new car having outdated technology soon after it leaves the dealer is very real.

The battle to be tech leaders in the car business is fierce, and it’s fair to say that Jaguar Land Rover has been behind the pack in the past few years. Responses from owners in our annual Driver Power customer satisfaction survey reveal that owners have been far from happy with the level of the tech the two British brands offer.

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But JLR is hoping to go from zero to hero; it’s just won our Technology Award at the 2019 Auto Express Awards for its ClearSight Ground View monitor, and we were invited up to its engineering headquarters in Gaydon, Warwickshire, to get a glimpse into the future – and to find out how the firm won’t be leaving existing owners behind, either.

We start in the office of JLR engineering director, Nick Rogers. Last time we were here about 18 months ago, the view from his office window was across a building site. Now he looks across an enormous extension to his department, which employs over 10,000 engineers.

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Rogers lives and breathes engineering. “It’s our duty to make life better for people,” he tells us. But times are changing fast for engineers, while JLR continues to grow its level of expertise in line with its product range.

“There’s huge growth in mechatronics,” he tells us. “There’s still plenty of mechanical engineering to be done, but we’re now employing people with different engineering skills – those with expertise in software and electrical engineering, and mechatronic systems – while reskilling existing engineers, too.”

Just five years ago, the bulk of JLR’s engineering team were mechanical engineers. But as we head towards 2020, it’s a pretty even split between mechanical engineers, software and electrical engineers, and mechatronic and systems engineers. 

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As well as the engineers’ different areas of expertise, JLR’s computing power has also grown massively. “We’re spending tens of millions on auto-rig tests for assessing software,” Rogers tells us. “It means we can carry out tens of thousands of usage tests in a matter of hours.”

So what does that mean for customers? “We’re obsessive about detail,” says Rogers. “For example, we have managed to achieve a 42 per cent reduction in total panel gaps on the new Evoque versus the old model.” It also means that both Jaguar and Land Rover will be among the first car brands to offer Software Over The Air (SOTA) updates. This means that your car, with its in-built WiFi 4/5G connection, is able to receive sometimes-significant upgrades over the Internet.

As well as being able to upgrade some of the kit on board, it’ll help to fix any problems before owners even realise they might exist. That will help to avoid costly recalls and reduce inconvenient dealer visits for potential warranty work, too.

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Rogers is also keen to stress that JLR is working with a number of technology partners – a programme which includes a recently announced deal with BMW on producing electric drive units. The likes of LG, Bosch, QNX and Google-owned Waymo are also on the partner roster.

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We leave Rogers’ office and follow him through the busy engineering base to a facelifted XE saloon, where Dan Clifton, one of JLR’s experts in Human Machine Interface (HMI) is ready to show us around. But before that, Rogers proudly shows us the door grab handles on the new XE, which now come with a 360-degree grip; this is entirely the result of customer feedback. That’s something that Clifton stresses about the infotainment system, too.

“We’re simplifying HMI,” he tells us. “We’re going back to the underlying Human Factors science. We’re looking at the position of the touchscreen and the reach required to reduce cognitive load on the driver; we’re rewriting standards. We look at HMI data to make improvements; for example, adding numbers on the screen for postcode entry.

“There are clear requirements for what needs to be where, based on science. If you have to use the handbook, we’ve gone too far.”

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Next it’s in to a workshop with an old XE sitting alongside a car that’s familiar to Rogers – his own Jaguar I-Pace. You’d think that the award-winning all-electric car would be ahead of the game on tech already, but there’s more to come.

Rogers takes the back seat as software architect Russell Vickers talks us through some of the advanced features already being tested on his boss’s car.

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“This car has plenty of smart features on it,” Vickers explains, “Including a Smart Wallet that will let you send and receive payments.” Users will be able to pay tolls and parking charges automatically, while there’s an unexpected benefit that could improve the state of our roads. “We could charge local councils for data showing the quality of road surfaces,” Vickers says. “It’s got to be a win-win for councils who will be able to stop driving around checking on the state of roads – we’ll do it for them.”

Rogers’ I-Pace also has a trial usage-based insurance system on it that could charge you per drive, while the Smart Wallet could also be used – alongside SOTA tech – to buy upgrades to the car’s systems; maybe an audio system upgrade, for example.

Rogers assures us that these apps won’t just live in the car’s own eco-system, but they can appear in an Apple or Android smartphone environment, too. That’s all well and good, but JLR has been slow to adopt Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in its range of cars.

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However, perhaps the most exciting part of our demos was what happened to the older Jaguar XE sitting in the workshop. This car was delivered with Jaguar’s latest InControl Touch Pro infotainment – a system that didn’t come with CarPlay or Android Auto on it.

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But Rogers’ team went on to show how these older vehicles could be updated to receive these sought-after hi-tech features. Plugging a laptop into the car to get it into service mode then allowed them to insert a simple memory stick into the car’s USB socket to update this old system with the very latest technology.

In no time at all, not only were Apple CarPlay and Android Auto where they weren’t before, but the system also offered further SOTA updates. Brilliant. 

Rogers says that the latest software update will be available on all Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles from 2015, as long as they have InControl Touch Pro fitted. It’s a rare example of a vehicle getting a valuable upgrade to its in-car tech long after it has left the showroom.

Rogers also hopes that dealers will see the benefits of offering the updates to existing owners free of charge.

The tech challenges that all car makers are facing are huge, with every single one of them looking to steal a march on their rivals. But what Jaguar Land Rover has planned for its future customers – and, more importantly, for existing owners of its vehicles – has leapfrogged its competitors, and the British brands are set to be among the automotive world’s leaders in technology.

Do you think JLR can lead the way forward with car technology? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...

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Editor-in-chief

Steve Fowler has been editor-in-chief of Auto Express since 2011 and is responsible for all editorial content across the website and magazine. He has previously edited What Car?, Autocar and What Hi-Fi? and has been writing about cars for the best part of 30 years. 

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