Michael van der Sande has a tough job.
As Managing Director of Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations (SVO), he is tasked not only with actively navigating – and maintaining – the future of the performance division in an electric future, but also shoring up its storied past.
That last bit is particularly important. In addition to steering business units focused on contemporary products, Mr van der Sande also oversees classic car programmes by Jaguar Land Rover Classic.
Having spoken to Torque previously about his time at French automaker Alpine, the automotive industry veteran now shares his thoughts on running SVO, which offers a range of exclusive SV-badged halo models, limited-run collectors’ editions and uniquely engineered projects.
It also offers tailored vehicle finishes from the SV Premium Palette and SV Bespoke ranges.
The division engineers cars from the mass-market F-Pace SVR to the hardcore XE SV Project 8. It even developed the I-Pace eTROPHY racers, and had a hand in a very special Bond car!
In his new interview with Torque, Mr van der Sande tells us that he feels the products from the classic car programme are an inalienable part of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), a division that contributes to the DNA of the British automaker.
That eye to the past enables him to cast an informed eye to the future. SVO, like its parent company, will also have to navigate an electric future.
JLR announced in February 2021 that it intends for its Jaguar brand to go fully electric by 2025, which means ditching its hugely characterful V8s for the 21st century powertrain of choice – batteries and traction motors.
Despite headwinds battering the automotive industry, there is a silver lining.
According to JLR, demand for Jaguar and Land Rover SV products is strong, with SVO selling more than 9500 high-performance and luxury SV products in the 2019/2020 financial year, up 64 percent on the 2018/2019 financial year.
What does it take to helm one of the world’s most notable automotive skunkworks? How can a performance brand swop a V8’s growl for a whisper-quiet electrified future? We speak to Mr van der Sande to find out.
Is Jaguar’s heritage important to SVO, and if so, how?
Preserving and celebrating Jaguar’s heritage is a key activity for SVO. We see our SV vehicles as classics of the future, and there’s significant collaboration between our teams.
For example, Jaguar Classic supported SV Bespoke in the creation of the F-Type Heritage 60 Edition, which celebrates the 60th anniversary of the legendary E-type sports car this year.
Every car is finished in Sherwood Green – an original E-type colour not used on a Jaguar since the 1960s – and features lots of special touches that showcase our commitment to quality, attention to detail and passion for our heritage.
It was a huge success, with all 60 cars sold out within days of its launch.
What strengths and/or benefits can SVO bring to the table above and beyond regular future electric Jaguar models?
I am afraid we cannot comment on our future product strategy or give specific details on how we will work with electrified powertrains, but it is a technology which offers a lot of scope for us to amplify the performance and luxury aspects of our vehicles.
It is a development we are excited by and have already gained a lot of valuable experience with. And, whatever we do, it will always respect the underlying character of the vehicle we are starting with.
Where does SVO see the future of the combustion engine going? Will it become extinct or co-exist with electrification?
Jaguar Land Rover is transitioning to become an electric-first business, with all nameplates available in pure electric form by the end of the decade and Jaguar reimagined as an all-electric luxury brand from 2025.
Special Vehicle Operations will continue to develop emotionally engaging cars that really push the boundaries of luxury, performance, and capability, with a variety of powertrain types across our portfolio.
Will the Jaguar V8 live on in some form or another, or is the F-Pace SVR a kind of swansong for it?
Clearly, there is a finite life for that hugely characterful engine in our Jaguar cars. It has served us well to date, including for F-Pace SVR. Beyond that, I am afraid I cannot tell you more about our product plans between now and 2025.
With chip shortages and the pandemic, where does SVO/Jaguar see itself in the next year or two?
The global semiconductor shortage remains a big challenge for the whole automotive industry, but underlying demand for our cars is incredibly strong.
The situation is difficult to forecast, but we expect the shortage to gradually ease and production to increase over about the next 12 months.
Are you able to shed some light on SVO’s other lesser-known projects?
In addition to developing series production cars like F-Pace SVR, and limited editions such as XE SV Project 8, which is still the fastest four-door production car round the Nurburgring Nordschleife, Special Vehicle Operations has been involved in a few very special Jaguar projects.
While these are no secret, we engineered the I-PACE eTROPHY race cars, developed a GT4-specification racing F-Type for one particular customer, and created the C-X75s featured in the James Bond movie Spectre. All these projects are real passion projects for our teams.
What car do you currently drive?
I drive a Jaguar F-Pace SVR, finished in Petrolix Blue, which is one of our SV Premium Palette finishes. It is a fantastic car for the long distances I drive. It is both relaxing and exciting when you want it to be.