Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Strategy

Jaguar emerging as a player in the luxury market Add to ...

For a cool $1.5-million – give or take a hundred grand or two – you may some day become one of the 250 owners given the chance to buy the production version of the Jaguar C-X75 hybrid super-car concept.

I can’t wait. But at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) headquarters in the British Midlands we’re not finding anyone willing to commit to an on-sale date. All we get is something that vaguely describes the timing as “some time between 2013 and 2015.”

Thus, we’ll need to stay on top of Jaguar-related developments for months. Surely that, for Jaguar, is purely intentional; it’s a way to keep talk about Jaguar at a healthy buzz. Part of the discussion will also revolve around what exactly the “real” car will be.

I may have zero chance of actually owning one, but I will follow this story closely. The car and the emerging JLR tale are fascinating in a David-and-Goliath way: JLR being David, with all the big German luxury brands – BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz – playing Goliath.

One of the pebbles JLR will use in its slingshot has been the brilliant marketing move of announcing the C-X75 production car. It is sure to become an instant collectible, a buzz-creating icon on four wheels. Fleshing out the tale over the next couple of years will be a marketer’s dream.

We know this: The C-X75 concept stunned crowds visiting the Paris Auto Show last fall and won a big best-in-show award. Going forward, the Williams Formula One racing team will assist Jag in bringing a production model to dealer showrooms. It will be rare, exclusive, fast, high-tech, stylish and no doubt all 250 will be sold before a single one rolls off a production line.

The smart money should bet that the launch of the C-X75 will coincide with a relatively massive wave of new Jaguars. The current lineup consisting of the XF (a mid-size sedan), the XJ (a large luxury saloon, including a long-wheelbase version and hot-shoe supercharged models) and the two-seat XK (coupe, convertible and high-zoot supercharged variants) is simply too limited and limiting if Jaguar ever hopes to survive, much less well and truly prosper in a big way. Jaguar needs more models and more sales volume. Period.

This concept-becoming-reality car indicates something important: the Indian conglomerate Tata, which bought Jaguar Land Rover from Ford Motor in 2008 for $2.3-billion (U.S.), appears to be taking the long view with its British investment.

This explains why in May Tata Motors CEO Carl-Peter Forster announced a five-year Jaguar Land Rover spending program valued at a cool $7.8-billion. The money will be used to fund new models, perhaps build an engine factory in England, improve quality and production techniques, development new technologies and, with a little luck, build a new factory in China.

Ambitious? Unbelievably so. Almost shocking, in fact, especially if you’re one of the naysayers – like me – who doubted that Tata would stay the course and prop up JLR through the worst financial crisis (2008-2009) since the Great Depression.

Many expected Tata to let JLR crash and burn. Instead, Jaguar in May announced the production decision on the C-X75. Meanwhile, Land Rover is about to launch the Evoque compact SUV this fall. It will join the LR2/Freelander, the LR4/Discovery and Range Rover 4x4 lineup in the growing Land Rover stable.

Jaguar Land Rover is, apparently, a going and soon-to-be-growing concern. The C-X75 hybrid, which combines internal combustion power with electric motors “to achieve super-car performance” while emitting less than 99g/km of CO2 will be the sort of green “halo” car of the new Jaguar.

I say sort of because while a hybrid, the C-X75 is scary fast. With power going to all four wheels, a 0-100 km/h time of around 3.0 seconds and a top speed in excess of 320 km/h, the C-X75 has pure super-car credentials. What makes the car even more interesting, aside from the bold design and carbon-fibre chassis, is an all-electric running range of 50 km.

However, fans of the C-X75 concept will be sad to learn that the production car will not have the battery-charging micro-turbines of the C-X75 concept in Paris. Jag plans to keep working on developing “this very advanced technology as a medium-term aspiration,” says the company, but that’s the future. The near-term will see the C-X75 use a small internal combustion engine, likely turbocharged, in concert with one powerful electric motor at each axle.

“The C-X75 received an incredible reception as a concept car. We’ve been building on that momentum and there is a clear business case for this exclusive halo model,” Adrian Hallmark, Jaguar brand director, told me in New York at the auto show this last spring. He was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

With good reason. Hallmark, a former Volkswagen executive, knows what the future holds and it’s cause for optimism. At the March Geneva auto show, JLR officials said they plan to launch 40 “significant new products” over the next five years.

Forty? Will JLR become a leading global car maker after all – even after Ford gave up after sinking billions and billions into a failed Jaguar revival nearly 20 years (from 1989 to 2008) in the making?

It just might happen, though in the car business who really knows? To sell more vehicles at profitable prices, JLR needs to be positioned as a premium brand with leading-edge technology and stunning designs. The formula is obvious; the execution is the tough piece.

On the nuts and bolts side, JLR can, say many experts, become a new type of car company, one developing some of its own technologies and buying others. The model is already being tested. For instance, with the Evoque, the only engine choice for Canada will be the 240-horsepower, direct injection, turbocharged four-cylinder bought from former owner Ford. JLR also buys engines from Peugeot. More technology alliances are surely in JLR’s future as a cost-savings measure.

Here, though, JLR needs to be careful not to sully its strong brand heritage for design and innovation. This surely is the group’s strongest asset. Plenty of analysts and experts argue that JLR needs to bring to market – and quickly – new and stunning designs and technologies that are unique to JLR.

This is where the C-X75 comes into the picture in a major way. It will be a running metaphor for what the Jaguar brand is.

“The C-X75 is absolutely at the forefront of technology; it's as good as you can get right now,” Tata Motors CEO Carl-Peter Forster said at a press conference in London, as reported by Reuters. “For me it’s also proof that the automobile is not the technology of the last century. It has a future.”

And it seems the same can be said about JLR.

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular