Over the same period in 1977, Jaguar sold 24,100 cars, Rover 25,600 and Land Rover 55,000.

Triumph was split out because its numbers were far better. Even the ancient Dolomite shifted 26,000 units in 1977 and the even more aged Spitfire 17,700 cars. The real eye-opener was the oft-derided TR7. In 1977 23,000 were sold, the two-seater almost outselling the whole of Jaguar.

In total, BL’s specialist division shifted around 128,000 cars. (And in retrospect, makes you wonder why the Triumph brand was dropped. But perhaps explains why BMW still owns the brand).

The AUEW-TASS report goes on to deliver the killer punch. In comparison to BL, European ‘specialist’ brands were far larger. In 1977 Daimler made 401,000 ‘specialist cars’ and BMW 292,000. Even Volvo made 171,000 cars in 1977 and, as the report points out, it had attempted to merge with Saab because the company believed it was still ‘sub-scale’.

‘It seems unlikely that Jaguar Rover Triumph, with such a relatively small volume, could devote the resources to research, development and marketing necessary to match these giant competitors’ the report concluded.

Nothing much changes for the UK’s home brands. After 40 years of unimaginable turmoil, buy-outs and sell-outs, I’d argue that JLR again finds itself ‘sub-scale’.

Jaguar sales in (the Covid year of) 2020 were around 104,000 units, four times the 1977 total. Land Rover sales were around 324,000, around six times what it managed in 1977, but they have been rather better recently.

In comparison, Mercedes sold 1.89m cars in 2020, about 4.5 times its 1977 total. BMW rose by 6.9 times to 2.028m cars (excluding its ex-BL Mini brand).

In 2020 JLR as a whole sold around 428,000 cars. It’s clear that JLR has, in fact, outperformed Mercedes for proportional long-term growth and is not too far behind BMW.

But the problem is the starting point from way back when: the bottom line is that BL’s premium division, as the old Union report makes clear, was sub-scale in 1977 and, as result, despite significant growth, it remains arguably sub-scale in 2021.

You can’t help but feel for new JLR boss Thierry Bolloré. He’s currently in an office somewhere trying to fix a problem that has dogged the UK industry for 40 years and more.


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