Dr Ralf Speth has plenty of reasons to be content with the world around him. The chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has guided his turbo-charged, twin-engined enterprise to a record-breaking year in 2016-17 — selling 604,009 cars and SUVs, the highest number of Jaguars and Land Rovers ever sold around the globe.

Those sales figures have stayed just as impressive in the months since. JLR’s remarkable performance has come on the back of growing demand for its great products in China and North America in particular. To cement its global bestseller status, JLR has broken away from an old tradition of manufacturing only in the UK. Manufacturing plants have come up in China and Brazil, and new plants are being built in Slovakia and Austria.

What’s noteworthy is the company’s innovation-fuelled ability to keep coming up with standout cars and SUVs. JLR’s innovation engine is taking the enterprise on a new path altogether where the internal combustion engine is being replaced by new forms of mobility; the company’s future is being mapped to an auto landscape where autonomous, connected and electrified vehicles rule the roads.

In this interview with Christabelle Noronha, Dr Speth, who is now on the board of Tata Sons, talks about the factors driving up the company’s sales numbers, the electric-car future that beckons, and more. Edited excerpts:

JLR has recorded an outstanding performance in terms of sales and profitability for the financial year 2016-17. Can you tell us what fuelled this performance?

Great products that customers love — that has been the key factor in our success. Our teams are talented and they have been working very hard to deliver products that are superb in design and performance. There is an unprecedented level of activity going on at JLR. We are now launching more cars than at any time in the company’s history.

The Jaguar F-Pace did us proud by bagging the World Car Design of the Year 2017 award and the World Car of the Year 2017 honour. The all-new Land Rover Discovery, the Range Rover Velar and our existing models have also contributed hugely to our success. With our recently announced cars such as the Jaguar E-Pace, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake and the I-Pace — our first electric car, which will be on sale next year — we are confident that we can keep attracting new customers and drive more growth.

As Britain begins talks to leave the European Union (EU), what are the major concerns of carmakers in general and of JLR specifically?

Brexit is a big concern. Any new tariffs, whether for exporting cars to Europe or importing components, would put us at a huge disadvantage and will have severe financial consequences.

We will also suffer if we no longer have easy access to employee talent from the EU countries. Recruiting world-class talent is a prerequisite to sustaining growth and staying competitive in the marketplace.

Great products that customers love — that has been the key factor in our success. Our teams are talented and they have been working very hard to deliver products that are superb in design and performance.

Would you welcome another referendum on the UK leaving the EU?

Even before the Brexit vote we had been talking to the British government at every level. We have put forward our case and helped them understand the importance of the car industry to the British economy and the outcomes that will be best for our business.

We are working continually behind the scenes to ensure that JLR’s position is clear. Whether there’s another referendum is entirely a matter concerning the UK government and the British electorate. Whatever be the end result, it is crucial that we respect the democratic right of the British people.

The UK government has committed itself to banning all diesel and petrol cars by 2040. What will be the wider impact of this move on the automotive industry?

The task ahead is enormous for everyone. The government’s statement about the 2040 deadline will ensure that we can work with government, academia and those in the industry to get clarity and start planning together. We are already on the journey to electrification and that journey will be transformative. From 2020, all new Jaguars and Land Rovers will be available either as full electric vehicles or as hybrid options.

It is vital in the context that the government does not put all the onus on carmakers. We are already investing billions to meet the targets set. Electric vehicles will not find favour with all consumers unless governments and other agencies also assist with appropriate financial incentives and investment in infrastructure, such as the widespread installation of charging points.

Energy companies must also play a role. Universal adoption of electric cars cannot happen without adequate attention being paid to ensure that we have 24-hour access to affordable energy to power them.

JLR’s China operations suffered a dip in 2013 before taking off. What’s your view on JLR’s showing in China, the partnership with Chery, and the importance of that market?

Recent sales indicate that business in China is improving and we see the size of that market increasing over time. China is a focus country for us and we need to keep delivering products and services that discerning Chinese customers want to continue buying. Clearly, this means that our joint venture with Chery is crucial to delivering these products.

Cars such as the Jaguar XFL, produced in our Changshu plant, have been a great success. This is a car that has been specifically designed and engineered for our Chinese customers, and it is only made in China. There will be more products like this in the days ahead.

It is critical that we have the right leadership in China, which is why we recently hired Qing Pan to lead our business in the country and to join our board. Qing is a Chinese national and he brings with him huge automotive experience. He is extremely well placed to deliver even better results for JLR in the future.

China is the location of JLR’s first engine plant outside Britain. Also, JLR has a plant in Brazil and is building another in Slovakia. Could you tell us a bit about the logic driving such expansion?

Global expansion is a natural outcome of success and is normal for the automotive industry. In order to continue to expand, it was necessary to focus on producing cars outside of the UK. Of course, JLR’s heart and soul remains in Britain and it’s still where the bulk of our design, engineering and manufacturing takes place. But China and our new facility in Slovakia are important to us as we continue to grow in the global market.

Building a manufacturing plant in India does not appear to be on JLR’s radar. What are the company’s plans for the country?

India remains a strategically important market for us, as well as being JLR’s second home. In Pune, we currently assemble cars like the Land Rover Discovery Sport and the Jaguar XE. We are convinced this is the right strategy given current market conditions.

With JLR moving towards electric cars, what challenges do you foresee, especially with respect to skills and manufacturing capacity?

We are already seeing change. To compete well, we have to attract the best and the brightest talent to our business. That means more electrical engineers, more software engineers, programmers, technologists and professionals with every other skill imaginable. We are a technology company and that is reflected in our workforce and in our manufacturing processes.

InMotion Ventures, the new venture capital arm and innovation hub for JLR, has already made investments in ride-sharing enterprise Lyft and in delivery company toBoot. How do you expect InMotion to evolve in what remains an extremely fluid automotive scenario?

Jaguar Land Rover InMotion is a new business but a strategically important one. It’s main purpose is to develop and invest in mobility services. We anticipate that customer needs are going to change in terms of how they use their cars, where they use their cars and, possibly, how they own cars. It’s crucial that we have the right initiatives to meet those demands.

The JLR turnaround since being acquired by Tata Motors is one of the most remarkable stories in the recent history of the automobile industry. To what do you attribute this success?

This is an important question, especially as next year we will be celebrating JLR’s tenth anniversary as a member of the Tata family. Our success can be attributed to, first and foremost, the vision of Ratan Tata, who saw our potential and pushed for Tata Motors to acquire these two great British brands. Since then we have benefitted in many ways, thanks to the support, trust and investment from Tata. That, coupled with the innovation, hard work and pioneering spirit of our teams, has been a formidable combination.

You were appointed to the board of Tata Sons in October 2016. Were you surprised by the nomination? What kind of contribution do you see yourself making to the Tata group as a whole?

I was immensely honoured to be appointed to the board of Tata Sons. Most importantly, this appointment is a recognition of the contribution that JLR is making to the group as a whole and is reflected in the contribution of every single member of the JLR family. We are determined and passionate about delivering on our commitments and we want to add value and contribute to the group. We have benefitted so much from being a proud member of the Tata family.