Led by John Cormican, the talented workforce at Jaguar Land Rover in Shannon is driving the future of cars and the world of transport as we know it.

There’s a certain poetic perfection to the location of the Jaguar Land Rover software development centre at Shannon. Nestled between major transport mechanisms – the Shannon estuary on one side and Shannon Airport on the other and a round-about or two away from Ireland’s motorways – Jaguar Land Rover’s state-of-the-art campus is all about the future of transport.

In many ways the almost 300-strong workforce are today’s standard bearers for a proud tradition of automotive excellence when you consider Jaguar’s sleek and stylish sports cars and the trusty Land Rover Defender, which has just returned with a new generation.

“It’s that diversity and that broad skill set, which is available here in Ireland and in the region which is very important to us”

When you think of today’s and tomorrow’s cars, they are essentially data centres on wheels and soon will all be connected together across 4G and 5G networks and able to communicate with each other through a plethora of sensors.

Having Jaguar Land Rover in Shannon is a major win for the region and speaks volumes about the quality of tech talent that is abundant in Ireland’s mid-west.

The midwest is fast becoming a go-to location as its tech scene continues to grow with major multinationals and Irish companies setting up in Limerick and Shannon. In addition, the region boasts a booming aviation-industry sector with hundreds of career opportunities.

This weekend a Tech on the Wild Atlantic Way event organised by CareerZoo will highlight the region’s tech prowess and jobs that are available with some of the world’s most innovative employers, as well as the added bonus of a better work/life balance and more affordable housing. Companies and organisations attending include Jaguar Landrover, WP Engine, IDA Ireland, FRS Recruitment, AMCS, Canyon CTS, Lero (The Irish Software Researh Centre), Knime, Edwards Lifsciences, Zimmer Biomet, Fiserv, Ocuco, Python Ireland, Julia Computing, Glass Lewis, SES, the International Aviation Services Centre (IASC) and Shannon Chamber.

Driving the future

Man in navy jacket and white shirt.

John Cormican, general manager, Jaguar Land Rover.

For John Cormican, general manager of Jaguar Land Rover, the road to building the state-of-the-art campus actually began at Intel where he was responsible for business development in the automotive sector.

Watching the growing convergence between automotive and tech and after leaving Intel, Cormican and his colleagues saw an opportunity to build a new entity in the Shannon region.

“We created a story around why to invest in Shannon which kind of comprised several different things, including the fact that we’re close to a couple of great universities and tech colleges. And the fact that there’s a whole bunch of foreign direct investment companies already in this region; marquee names like Cisco, General Motors, Intel, Lufthansa and Johnson Controls, a whole bunch of companies. And the fact that there’s a strong support also from the IDA and in terms of R&D tax credits and grants.

“The starting team very much had the right skill set to get us going. This gave us a lot of independence to get it going from scratch. And we rented a basically a ground floor at Universal House to start us off. We started there with 12 people. And then if you roll the clock forward, two and a half years, we’re nearly at 300. And we are in a brand new shiny building, which is fantastic.”

While much of the work at the Jaguar Land Rover does at Shannon is hush-hush, you can be certain that as cars become essentially computers, the intelligence and communications driving them were developed there.

Cormican says the success of the Shannon operation is down to the team.

“We were able to take all the activities of growing out the business ourselves. And so between hiring, between legal, between construction, all the things you have to do, to try and get something off the ground, the team were able to do that with huge support, obviously, from the guys in the UK. 

“So it grew very quickly, much more than I ever even anticipated, going back two and a half years, which is great. And now we’re up and running, as you can see, in this new building and we’re directly involved in several different critical programmes, including the new Defender, which is an iconic new vehicle for us. A lot of the tech and software that goes into that vehicle I am proud to say that the team here has been directly involved.”

Ireland gets in gear for the future of autotech

Jaguar Land Rover building in Shannon.

The Jaguar Land Rover building in Shannon.

I put it to Cormican that Ireland has a legacy in car manufacturing going back to Ford coming to Cork in 1917. With the kind of high-level work being done in Shannon at Jaguar Land Rover, I asked him if he thinks this will see a revival of car manufacturing in Ireland.

He pointed to the significant number of big-name software and tech firms that have made their home in Ireland from Apple in Cork to players like Microsoft and Facebook in Dublin.

“So we have all the marquee names here and for automotives as a sector it’s all moving towards electronics and software and intelligence and cloud.

“The huge focus in the past was on the physical stuff, the power train and body and chassis, body control and physical wiring and cabins and all that kind of stuff. And that still has to happen obviously to build a vehicle.

“But now it’s much more about the intelligence. It’s about the software. It’s about your infotainment systems, your connectivity systems, your voice control, automated driving, all those cool things are technologies that are going into the vehicle.

“And it’s a different type of ecosystem that’s required for] developing those technologies compared to the past. And that’s one of the reasons why Jaguar Land Rover is here: because we want to be part of that ecosystem and work with other major tech companies to drive forward a tech agenda for Jaguar Land Rover.”

To underpin Cormican’s point about intelligence and future self-driving vehicles, some €4.7m has been allocated by the Irish Government to finance the Future Mobility Campus (FMCI) project. This will be a 13km private road testing facility for driverless vehicles and leading companies in the autonomous vehicle sector such as Jaguar Land Rover, Cisco, AMAX Engineering, Taoglas, Mergon International, General Motors, Analog Devices, Valeo, SGS, PiPiper, Transpoco, Arralis and Arup will have the facility made available to them for rental purposes.

As such, thanks to the presence of major companies from Dell to Jaguar Land Rover to WP Engine, the Shannon region holds the keys literally to drive the future.

People are in the driving seat

For Cormican, it is about the people.

“It is about the talent of the people who are here. And if you look into our workforce, we’re a very diverse workforce. And we’re very proud of that. We have a lot of local people but we also have a lot of folks coming from literally all over the world.

“So it’s that diversity and that broad skill set, which is available here in Ireland and in the region, which is very important to us.

“There are three universities and three Institute of Technology within a 90-minute drive of here, and they’re producing fantastic talent. Really, really, really great graduates. And we’re recruiting from a lot of different courses besides traditional software and electronics, such as statistics, data analytics, gaming, augmented reality, machine learning, all those kinds of things. And even up in Sligo you have a course now that’s dedicated to autonomous vehicles, which is fantastic. UL has launched new courses in artificial intelligence and machine learning. So, so these are great proof points. And it all helps us grow the overall talent pool in the region.”

For Kieran Blake, bank manager for Bank of Ireland Shannon, having a company of Jaguar Land Rover’s standing and the kind of work that it is doing there bodes well for the future of the region.

“Jaguar Land Rover is one of the best-known brands in the world and for them to choose Shannon Industrial Estate as their base for their leading-edge research and development programme in advancing its self-drive technology is a massive boost to the area and recognition of the fantastic people and complementary industries based locally. Seeing our communities thrive is at the core of Bank of Irelands purpose and having Jaguar Land Rover based here will be a huge enabler and we wish them every success.”

The whole business of car manufacturing is changing, but for Cormican and the team at Jaguar Land Rover, the future is the intelligence in the vehicles but also working with other big-name car manufacturers which also bodes well potentially for Ireland.

“We have a strong history of collaboration, even with other car manufacturers. We have to do that because the cost of entry into electrification and autonomous driving is just too great. You’re talking billions of dollars. Only a few companies are going on their own, like Apple, Baidu and Waymo, but they have very, very deep engineering budgets.

“So, what you’ll see will be a lot of collaboration and partnerships happening in the [traditional car] industry. For example, we’ve announced a partnership with BMW on developing electric drive units for our electric powertrain, which is a very interesting collaboration and we’ll see where it goes.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 31 January, 2020

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