Sir Stafford Cripps officially opened Rover’s Solihull car plant

Saturday 2nd February 1946

Sir Stafford Cripps officially opened Rover’s Solihull car plant. As in the tradition of Rover previous main factories dating back to the original Starley and Sutton Rover Bicycle plant from Victorian times, the Solihull plant was named The Meteor Works. Car production started again in 1946, with the first new car to be produced at the factory the Rover P4, from 1949. As well as producing many Rover cars there until the late 1970s, the plant was also the development site of the Land Rover four-wheel drive vehicle in late 1947 and 1948. It is also the development site for Rover’s other iconic four wheel drive in the late 1960s, the Range Rover. The Land Rover instantly began out selling Rover cars from its beginning in 1948 and the Solihull plant has remained the home and birthplace of Land Rover ever since. North Works was added to the Solihull site beginning in late 1956 as two storage warehouses. North Works became a complete factory of its own for the introduction of the Rover P6 car in October 1963. The Rover P6 was awarded the International Car of the Year for 1964.

The Rover Company merged with Leyland Motors in 1967, which merged shortly afterwards with British Motor Holdings to create the British Leyland Motor Corporation a year later. Solihull continued to manufacture Rover cars, but the most significant new Rover product would be the Range Rover in 1970 – a model whose success would ultimately secure the plant’s future in later decades. The factory was extended with Eastworks in 1975 for the new Rover SD1, a bold and futuristic design which would replace the older P6 models. However the plant was ravaged by the industrial strife that had crippled (and eventually bankrupted) the rest of BL, and the resulting quality problems meant the car never fulfilled its promise.

The rationalisation of car production in the late 1970s by British Leyland had almost wiped out their all their major British car brands. At Solihull all car production, except for Land Rover vehicles, ceased at Lode Lane. Land Rover and Range Rover as specialist lines of the old Rover Company had remained relatively unscathed from the British Leyland bankruptcy and were split as separate operating company based there. The Rover SD1 assembly hall and paint shop were mothballed, and production of that car was moved to the former Morris plant in Cowley, Oxfordshire. All future Rover car production would take place both here, and at the Austin assembly plant in Longbridge. Following the de-merger of Jaguar from BL in 1984, the Range Rover became BL’s flagship product and a stable situation existed from thereon, with new models such as the Discovery debuting in 1989, and the Freelander in 1998 – which finally made use of the old SD1 assembly hall. In 2000, the situation changed once again when BMW (by now the owners of the Rover Group – the successor to BL) decided to sell Land Rover (and the Solihull plant) to Ford.

In 2005, production of the Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport at the Solihull plant was temporarily interrupted by protesters from the environmental organization Greenpeace. The protesters infiltrated an assembly facility and temporarily delayed production of the vehicle. Greenpeace cited issues with greenhouse gas emissions, and by extension, global warming. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates for the non-supercharged car are 14 mpg‑US (17 L/100 km; 17 mpg‑imp) (combined). Although for this test the EPA used their newly calibrated system for 2008 and on. Greenpeace stated they did not take issue with the production of vehicles such as the Land Rover Defender as they are typically used for off-road applications on a much more frequent basis than vehicles such as the Range Rover Sport which they claim “has been tuned primarily for on road performance”.

In March 2008, Ford finalised a deal to sell Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors – part of the Indian-based Tata Group, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial vehicles.

Solihull has since benefited from massive investment in the run up to the launch of the fourth generation Range Rover in 2012 and second generation Range Rover Sport in 2013, following the installation of a new aluminium bodyshell production facility.[8] The plant has now been designated as a “centre for excellence” for aluminium body technology. Production of the Jaguar XE, the first non-4×4 vehicle to be produced at the plant since 1981, began on 13 April 2015, and will be followed by production of the Jaguar F-Pace during 2016. Sir Stirling Moss, Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis and motoring expert Quentin Wilson led a procession of classic Jaguar and Land Rover models to celebrate the beginning of Jaguar production at Solihull, with Stirling Moss formally opening the new production facility. Production of the Jaguar XE has since moved to Castle Bromwich in 2016 costing £100m.

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