LONDON (Reuters) - British luxury automaker Jaguar unveiled a $2.4 billion investment in a new range of lightweight aluminum sports and cross-over cars aimed at the mass market, a plan it said would create 1,700 jobs in the UK.
The spending is part of a move to launch more affordable models from 2015 to emulate the success of lower cost luxury vehicles made by its sister company Land Rover.
Carmakers around the world are expanding into so-called premium "crossover" vehicles, seeking to tap demand for models that combine the functionality of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) with the comfort and performance of luxury cars.
Nearly one in every four premium vehicles sold last year in Europe was a crossover or SUV, and the category continues to grow, despite concerns about size and fuel consumption, according to UK-based consultancy LMC Automotive.
Jaguar's new models will compete directly with the likes of Germany's BMW <BMWG.DE> and Daimler's <DAIGn.DE> Mercedes-Benz which dominate the market for entry-level luxury vehicles.
Jaguar, part of the Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) <TAMOJL.UL> group owned by India's Tata Motors <TAMO.NS>, on Tuesday said cash would be spent to design systems to help it introduce new one-piece "aluminum vehicle architecture".
The new models will be built on production lines previously used to make Land Rover vehicles at JLR's plant in Solihull, central England, where some 1,700 new jobs will be created.
A Jaguar sports sedan, due to be launched in 2015, will be the first to feature the new technology. It will also be the first car to use engines from JLR's new engine plant in nearby Wolverhampton.
Next up will be Jaguar's first ever sports cross-over vehicle, called the C-X17, also featuring an aluminum frame, which is being showcased at the Frankfurt car show this week.
"The inherent flexibility of this all-new technology will enable the Jaguar Land Rover business to not only enter but aggressively compete in exciting new segments, creating new markets for both brands," JLR's Chief Executive Ralf Speth said.
JLR has roared to health in the four years since Tata Motors bought the group from Ford <F.N> for $2.3 billion.
It has escaped the cycle of plant shutdowns and falling production at many European automakers by tapping into growing demand for luxury cars in emerging markets.
The company said the investment could deliver another 24,000 jobs in the supply chain.
(Reporting by Rhys Jones; Editing by Sarah Young and David Cowell)