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The Cat comes back, we thought it was a goner Add to ...

Land Rover and Jaguar, owned by the India-based Tata conglomerate but run out of England, may yet become a success story. We'll know for certain in the next 12-18 months.

For Land Rover, says new Jaguar Land Rover Canada president Lindsay Duffield, the future is wrapped up in whatever success comes with the 2012 Range Rover Evoque. This compact crossover will hit showrooms next fall in both five-door and three-door versions, most likely starting in the mid-$40,000s.

Land Rover unwrapped the whole Evoque story last month at the Los Angeles auto show. Duffield and all the other Rover types were there, insisting the five-door will add extra practicality and greater family appeal to the Evoque, while the three-door version is something of a city runabout. The Evoque will be the brand's smallest, lightest and most fuel-efficient model and is as far away from the iconic Defender SUV as anything possible could be.

Consider: the five-door Evoque will be sold in a front-wheel-drive version, though the Rover brain trust insists over and over that the four-wheel-drive version of this car-based crossover will have better off-road capabilities than rival compact SUVs such as the BMW X1. Engines? A new 240-hp, 2.0-litre gasoline unit with direct-fuel injection is the showcase powerplant. Land Rover will offer two 2.2-litre turbo-diesels, with 190 hp or 150 hp, though chances are neither will come to Canada.

Then there's Jaguar. The sales volumes in Canada remain, well, sad. Through the end of November sales were down 3.2 per cent, with a measly 723 Jags sold during the first 11 months of 2010. But there is hope for the future in the stunning Jaguar C-X75 concept, a 780-hp, we-might-build-it-if-demand-is-there turbojet-powered hybrid. Dripping with clever technology, Jaguar's electric super-car concept exists to tease and to celebrate 75 years of the Leaper and the Growler.

Jaguar is also looking at a smaller sports car of some sort and everyone drawing a paycheque wants to build one at the company. The problem is, would a little Jag roadster sell at a profit, given the company's high cost structure? Not likely. And Jaguar can't afford missteps and mistakes.

But the fact we're even talking about a future for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is a miracle in itself. Many expected both brands to expire with the great 2008-2009 recession once Ford had unloaded them both to Tata Motors Ltd. in 2008. The deal netted Ford $1.7-billion (U.S.) - about one-third of what the American car company originally paid for the two money-losing British brands. Even at those fire-sale prices, Tata looked to have been fleeced.

Ford sank billions in to Jag and Land Rover, yet never could make a real profit. Under Tata, the JLR leadership is now dominated by Germans with BMW-like backgrounds. They have cut costs, streamlined the business and now the British unit is turning in an operating profit.

"We're one company, two brands," and that works, says Duffield, before adding, "Believe me, the adrenalin is pumping. We had to survive the (economic) meltdown (of 2008) and extricate ourselves from Ford. We've down that. Now we can look ahead."

So growth is on the agenda, including and perhaps especially in Canada.

"We should do 5,000 (combined) a year and we'll get there," Duffield says, insisting that this small business in Canada is profitable and poised for growth.

For Duffield, whose last full-time auto assignment was running BMW's business in Canada, 5,000 in sales is peanuts. BMW Canada will sell close to 30,000 BMW and Mini brand vehicles this year. Jaguar will do maybe 800 cars this year, Land Rover perhaps 2,500 or 2,600. It's a long way for JLR to go from, say, 3,500 combined today, to 5,000-plus in annual sales.

At least JLR is generating some buzz. At the Los Angeles auto show, Jaguar invited a gaggle of media types and hangers-on to a little evening at a garage owned by talk show host and noted gear head Jay Leno. The big-chinned comedian was not the star of the show, either. That fell to the C-X75 concept first unveiled in September at the Paris auto show, where it was named the outstanding concept of the event.

The C-X75 truly is breathtaking. The car can reach 330 km/h and sprint from rest to 100 km/h in just 3.4 seconds. It will do 80-145 km/h in 2.3 seconds, yet for a range of 110 km puts out zero tailpipe emissions while running solely on lithium-ion battery power.

"The C-X75 is everything a Jaguar should be," design director Ian Callum told me in Paris. "It possesses remarkable poise and grace yet at the same time has the excitement and potency of a true super-car. You could argue this is as close to a pure art form as a concept car can get and we believe it is a worthy homage to 75 years of iconic Jaguar design."

This C-X75 is far more than an homage to Jaguar's history, however. It is a stunning example of how car companies can inject joy into the electrified future that all the experts say awaits the auto industry.

As the numbers show, the C-X75 is not a golf cart. No golf cart comes with four 145-kW (195-hp) electric motors - one for each wheel - that combined produce 780 hp. Each motor weighs just 50 kg and putting a motor at each wheel makes this concept a four-wheel-drive ride. Two micro gas-turbines, spinning at 80,000 rpm, can generate enough electricity to extend the range to 900 km, while emitting just 28 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

In a nutshell, the C-X75 plays the part of a high-tech tour de force. The overall design steals from the XJ220 super-car and XJ13 concept, but its curves are original, and the pooled expanses of sheet metal comprising the hood and rear deck lid are to die for. Will Jag build it for sale?

"We are being disciplined with our [new model]investment, but that doesn't mean we can't do some interesting things," says Duffield, as we chew over the future of Jaguar's lineup, starting with the possibilities presented by the C-X75. Jaguar is looking to add models to the lineup beyond an affordable roadster, including some sort of estate wagon.

All this adds up to quite the shocker: Jaguar and Land Rover, profitable and ready to expand. No one, least of all me, would have bet on this scenario coming to pass. Good thing I'm not a betting man.

Compact crossover will be the smallest, greenest vehicle the company has produced

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