The relevance of Jaguar: Two new models ensure its future

The year 2008 was a dark time for the international auto industry, and particularly for several American auto brands. Faced with record monetary losses and a worldwide economic crisis, General Motors killed off Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer and Saab. Chrysler looked to GM to merge, was rebuffed, and then was forced to marry Fiat in a shotgun wedding negotiated by the government and the unions. Ford, which had already leveraged the corporate identity as much as possible, jettisoned all of its recent premium acquisitions; Aston Martin, Land Rover, Volvo and Jaguar were all lost at fire sale prices.

Jaguar 048Many thought that Volvo would join Saab and just disappear altogether, but the Chinese (Gheely Auto) rescued the car brand. Jaguar and Land Rover were also in dangerous waters. Both automakers were tiny, niche brands left from the heady days when the British government (and the unions) operated long departed British Leyland. Yet, a consortium of buyers stepped forward to fight for these iconic English brands, with Indian automaker Tata — virtually unheard of in America — winning the battle and acquiring both Jaguar and Land Rover. The English auto industry was not dead, yet.

Today, Jaguar and Land Rover are more relevant than ever. Under Tata’s tutelage, these two brands operate as one, sharing technologies, costs and infrastructures in Solihull and Bridgehampton. Tata has invested billions in both brands, developing new powertrains, new chassis and new body designs that now compete worldwide. In the past five years, Jaguar Land Rover, the new company name, has doubled worldwide sales. With two new models coming to America this spring, Tata hopes to see Jaguar sales triple here.

Right now, Jaguar offers three models in North America: the midsize XF sedan, the full-size XJ and the F-Type sports coupe/convertible. By spring, a new XE compact class sedan joins the lineup (now on sale in Europe) while the company’s first crossover vehicle, the compact F-Pace, will certainly help expand sales. With more than half of U.S. dealers aligned together with Land Rover, these retail points will finally have a full complement of road-going luxury cars, crossovers and premium on-road/off-road SUVs that equals or betters several other luxury competitors. After many sleepless nights, Jaguar Land Rover dealers cannot hide their excitement.

Ree Hartwell, the longtime press relations coordinator for Land Rover and Jaguar for the United States, and a summer resident on Southport Island in Maine, recently brought Stuart Schorr, vice president of Jaguar Land Rover Communications and Public Affairs, to New England for a debut evening of the new XE compact sedan.

In a lively, refreshing presentation Stuart talked about the “Art of Performance,” Jaguar’s new product initiative. Going from just three models to five will be huge for Jaguar, because not only are the two new models participants in two of the hottest segments — entry level compact sedans and entry level small crossovers — but each offering packs lots of performance and visual appeal at price points that will stun buyers. Jaguar has its game face on.

Jaguar 003The F-Pace — the brand’s first ever crossover — and the XE are both aluminum-intensive designs that save weight. They each offer optional AWD in their rear-drive biased fully independent chassis, and each will offer turbocharged four cylinder engines for base power (240 hp) as well as supercharged V-6 power for the performance that many buyers will seek — with up to 380 galloping horses under the hood. Diesel power will be available as well, as each model employs the next-generation Ingenium aluminum engines developed and built by Tata/Jaguar/Land Rover.

Most refreshing about the whole evening, despite the assembled company and the discourse about VW diesels, autonomous cars, Apple and Google cars, and the shortage of vehicular inventory, was how Stuart’s presentation highlighted the driving emphasis of the new Jaguars. The comparison to comparable Porsche and BMW models throughout his talk was probably by design (the new XE is almost exactly the same size as a BMW 3-series) but a positive tone that reflects the proper path for this venerable automaker if it hopes to make inroads in the premium segment. Jaguars always look great. They generally drive nice. According to Mr. Schorr, they are now going to drive well, drive swiftly, cost less, weigh less, pack more features, AND get better mileage. No talk about infotainment systems, massive sunroofs, vibrating seats, or fingernail polishing — just plain talk about responsive driving cars that change perceptions one sale at a time. Thank you.

Jaguar 072Two keys to this Art of Performance campaign — to increase consumer confidence and interest in the brand — are contrasting initiatives. First is the new Jaguar warranty, the best luxury coverage in the industry. Jaguar will provide five years and 60,000 miles of complete coverage, including maintenance — for free.

The second piece is more visible right now. If you are a James Bond fan, the next film in the series is being promoted for a November debut. “Spectre” will feature several Jaguar Land Rover products, not the least of which is a Land Rover Defender prototype as well as a one-off Jaguar C-X75 experimental car that will be piloted by the movie’s “bad guy.” Highlighting some of the cheekiness of Jaguar’s “Good to be Bad” TV campaign, the “Spectre” exposure will make consumers much more aware of how far Jaguar has come.

Checking all of the necessary boxes, Jaguar’s new products appear to be ready for prime time; sleek styling, strong aluminum construction, efficient and powerful engines, aggressive price points, as well as a comprehensive campaign to sway buyers. Let’s see what the real products render and hope that Stuart’s presentation isn’t British fantasy.

The new XE will come in four trim levels, ranging from $34,900 to $41,700, while three powertrains going from 180-hp diesel to 340-hp V-6 will be employed. Cars will be on dealer lots by spring. Rear drive is standard, AWD optional on all models.

The new F-Pace crossover will come in three models with three powertrains ranging from the same 2.0-liter turbodiesel to a 380-hp supercharged V-6. A full-time AWD system will be standard. F-Pace target competitors are the Audi Q5, Porsche Macan and BMW X3. Pricing will start at $40,900 for the diesel, $42,390 for the 35T with V-6 and $56,700 for the “S” model with the supercharged 380-hp. Vehicles should arrive late spring 2016.

Jaguar started as the Swallow Sidecar Co. in 1922, building sidecars for motorcycles. The company became Jaguar in 1945, building cars. After joining British Leyland in 1966, Jaguar left to be on its own again in 1984, only to be purchased by Ford in 1989. Tata Motors bought Jaguar in 2008.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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