COURTESY JAGUAR LAND ROVER - A new Jaguar F-Type sits in the Jaguar Land Rover Lab at 1419 NW 14th Avenue in the Pearl District. This test model was modified with a special dashboard for testing the companies infotainment offerings, which are not expected to be in cars for a couple of years.  What kind of new technology would you like to see in your next car — an app to find the closest food cart pod or maybe the nearest restroom? Or maybe some way to update your Facebook page while driving without taking your eyes off the road?

If you can build it, it might debut in a next generation Jaguar or Land Rover, some of the most prestigious vehicles in the world.

Better yet, how about if JLR — as the company is commonly called — gives you a fully-equipped office in Slabtown to do the work for twelve months, complete with support staff and a common room with a kitchen and retro video games for free?

No, these aren’t trick questions. In one of the most innovative development projects in automotive history, JLR is actually offering to do just that. Beginning in January, it will open an office at 1410 N.W. 18th Ave. that will house up to six start-up companies to develop new technologies for future generations of automobiles.

“The incubator spaces are fully serviced, and at no cost to the start-ups. Internet, telephone, printer suppliers, cleaners, utilities, rent and even drinks are included,” says Matt Jones, the company’s Head of Future Infotainment.

And this is not a one-time, short-term publicity stunt. Jones says JLR is expecting to cycle 120 startups through the building over the next 10 years.

Dozens of automotive journalists were briefed on the JLR Tech Incubator project and got a tour of the building last Monday. Company officials explained it was part of an ongoing effort to better understand what technologies consumers will expect in new vehicles in the future. Applications have already been received and are being evaluated for the first three start-ups that will move into half the spaces in January. The next round is currently being solicited.

COURTESY JAGUAR LAND ROVER - The inside of Jaguar Land Rover's new startup incubator on N.W. 18th Avenue. The company will choose up to 12 startups to work on ideas that may or may not be directly applicable to in-car infotainment. “We’re not just seeking automotive technologies, but early stage start-ups with big ideas that can be applied to automobiles,” says Jones, explaining the startups will develop their products on an open source platform developed by JLR that will be shared with other manufacturers. Although Jones hopes the products will debut in his company’s vehicles, the goal is to spread them far and wide.

“A major success criteria is strong, growing companies. Jaguar Land Rover will actively introduce the start-ups in the incubator to other potential buyers of the products, including to Jaguar Land Rover’s competition,” Jones says.

The incubator project is just part of a large but quiet investment JLR has made in Portland over the past year. In June it opened a 15,000 square foot testing and design space at 1419 N.W. 14th Ave. It houses 40 designers and engineers, a virtual driving simulator, and a garage space for new vehicles that are part of the tests. The new project will be housed in a 15,000 square foot building a few blocks to the west. It will also house an additional 80 company employees. And another 10,000 square foot building is expected to open after that.

“Jaguar Land Rover are investing significantly in Portland; signing a long-term lease on the second building, increasing of the workforce significantly and committing to potential incubator 120 start-ups over the next 10 years. As well as the offices, we are working with Portland State University, the Portland Development Commission, Drive Oregon and Business Oregon to ensure we can maximize the benefit to the communities, and not just through the development activities,” says Jones.

Automotive journalist Nik Miles took the tour and was impressed with both Jaguar’s commitment to new technologies and their choice of Portland to help develop them.

“A city with such strong culture, art and technology scene is perfect to guide the future of something like the car industry,” says Miles, who is president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. His reviews appear on KOIN 6 and other stations.

The investment is just one indication of how automotive manufacturers are scrambling to meet the escalating demands of consumers who have grown up with iPhones, iPads and other connected electronic devices. According to Jones, they now expect such technologies to be seamlessly integrated into their vehicles, and will base their purchases on how well they work. Manufacturers that lose the technology race will struggle to compete against those who succeed.

But determining what future consumers will want is hard because technology is changing so fast. In response, JLR has essentially decided to let those producing the earliest versions of the technology do the work. And it chose Portland as the test market, largely because of the city’s growing reputation for hipness and innovation.

Such research might seem odd for JLR. The company has built its reputation on fast and durable vehicles. Jaguars are known for speed, while Land Rovers and Range Rovers are renowned for their off-road abilities.

Indeed, during the press preview, the Northwest 14th Avenue building held three of the company’s newest vehicles. They included an F-Type sports car convertible, a redesigned full size XJ luxury sedan, and the all-new XE compact sedan. All were stunning examples of speed and style.

Jones says those qualities are still valued by customers, but they now expect even more in their vehicles, including the most up-to-date technology. Failing to meet those demands risks future sales.

The Portland project is just one investment JLR is making around the world to boost future sales. The company is on a roll, with total sales increasing from 196,226 vehicles in 2009 to 462,678 in 2014. Sales generated $35 billion in revenue and $4 billion in pre-tax profit in the company’s 2014-2015 fiscal year. Now it is investing $5 billion a year in new research and manufacturing facilities. In addition to Portland, the company is plowing money into its original production plants in the United Kingdom and new ventures in Austria, Brazil, China, India, and Slovak Republic.

One goal is to increase the sale of Jaguar vehicles, which currently lag behind Land Rover models, such as the luxurious Range Rover and stylish Evoque off-road capable SUVs. To do that, Jaguar has redesigned its full-size XJ sedan and introduced an all-new replacement XF midsize sedan. It has introduced the first real sports car in years, the F-Type, which is featured in the new James Bond movie, “Spectre.”

And they are introducing two new models, the compact XE sedan and the compact F-Pace crossover. All are priced to compete against equivalent vehicles from Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.

With the introduction of the new vehicles, Jaguar will be fully competitive across the board,” says Rob Filipovic, the company’s Product Planning Manager.

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