Major auto industry CEO explains the dangers of a trade war

Jaguar Land RoverJaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth at the 2018 New York Auto Show with the Range Rover Velar.

These days, Jaguar Land Rover is a truly global car company. The venerable British automaker, now a part of India’s TATA Group, builds cars on three continents while doing business in 166 countries.

Leading the charge for Jaguar Land Rover is the company’s CEO, Ralf Speth. The affable German ascended to the top job in 2010 after several decades in the car business with BMW and Ford’s now-defunct Premier division.

Speth sat down with Business Insider at the 2018 New York International Auto Show. Our conversation touched upon a variety of topics ranging from global trade to JLR’s ambitious plans for electric mobility.

The Jaguar I-PACE is unique

The big news from JLR is the debut of its first electric car: the all-new Jaguar I-PACE crossover SUV. Even though the stylish EV has been commonly compared to the latest offerings from Tesla, like the Model 3 and the Model X, Speth is quick to point out that the I-PACE is unique.

“We go our own way,” Speth told us. “If you look at the technology of (the I-PACE) and the other cars, in terms of the complete propulsion system, in terms of aerodynamics, of design and IP, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.”

Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf SpethJaguar Land RoverSpeth and the Jaguar I-PACE.

Speth went on to point out some of the I-PACE’s truly novel design and engineering features including the car’s roomy cab forward passenger compartment and its drive shafts that run through the car’s electric motors for better packaging.

Even though both the I-PACE and the Tesla Model X are technically mid-size electric crossover SUVs, they are in fact very different in price, size, and performance.

How Jaguar and Land Rover can both sell SUVs without stepping on one another’s toes

Over the past couple of years, few brands have been as well-equipped as Land Rover to handle the market’s nearly insatiable appetite for SUVs. After all, off-roading is Land Rover’s bread and butter.

However, sister brand Jaguar recently jumped into the SUV game with a trio of models: the F-PACE, E-PACE, I-PACE.

According to Speth, there is certainly competition between Jaguar and Land Rover, but it is usually between the brands’ two highly touted design teams.

Land Rover Discovery 3Hollis JohnsonThe new Land Rover Discovery.

As for the brands, Speth believes that they are very different in terms of purpose and customer base.

Jaguar’s offerings are “far more on-road orientated” and are generally considered to be crossovers rather than true SUVs, Speth explained. Even though the industry doesn’t make that delineation clear to the public, it is clear within Jaguar Land Rover.

“In principle, they are in totally different categories,” he said. “Therefore there’s no overlap and hardly any substitution between the two brands.”

Trade wars are a concern

With Jaguar Land Rover’s global profile, recent talk of increased tariffs and the potential for trade war is something that Speth does not take lightly.

“Whenever I hear the word ‘war’ I get nervous,” he said. “For me, war in any form should not happen in modern times.”

Jaguar XF SHollis Johnson/Business InsiderThe Jaguar XF Sportbrake.

According to Speth, we, as a society, should have learned from the mistakes of the past and instead create a “free, open, and fair environment,” where the people can be enriched.

As for trade wars, Jaguar Land Rover’s international footprint puts the company at the heart of the issue.

“We are a quintessentially British company that exports 80% of our products, but we also import 40% of the components we need to produce the cars,” he told us.

And for this CEO, history has proven for hundreds of years that free trade is the way to go.

“British economists like David Riccardo and Adam Smith proved 200 years ago that protectionism is the worst for society while free and fair trade is a win-win,” Speth said. “So why do we not learn from this and build a society with more freedom, more peace, and more wealth?”

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