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A Jaguar F-Pace gets put to the test at Jaguar’s Ice Academy, in Arjeplog, Sweden.Jens Baier SeALighTArts/Courtesy of manufacturer

The Jaguar F-Pace is not on thin ice. In fact, it’s on very thick ice at the moment, sliding almost-out-of-control across a frozen lake in far northern Sweden, just 40 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle. Throttle flat to the floor, the Jaguar SUV drifts around a corner, all four metal-studded tires scrambling to pull it out of the slide, which they do, but only for a split second before the whole vehicle swings around in the opposite direction, like a pendulum, carving a perfect arc across a racetrack made of ice. Outside it’s -10 C, without the wind chill. Inside, a heated steering wheel and laughter.

You have no idea how much fun driving can be until you’ve done it on a wide open expanse of ice. This is as good as it gets. No wonder it helps Jaguar sell cars.

Jaguar’s Ice Academy in Arjeplog, Sweden, is one of several new multiday driving experiences the company is offering to Jaguar owners and non-owners alike as part of an effort to build the brand’s image. If freezing cold isn’t your thing, you can instead drive vehicles from Jaguar’s sister company Land Rover across the ancient rock formations of Moab, Utah, or on a safari across the vast desert of Namibia.

As vehicles become increasingly homogeneous, Jaguar is looking to offer unique experiences in an effort to compete against larger rival automakers.

“We’re all moving into an experience economy,” says Joe Eberhardt, president and chief executive officer of Jaguar Land Rover North America.

Nobody needs a Jaguar to get from A to B. “How do you make sure that customers, when they think about cars, think back to a particular brand? It is by providing them experiences that they cannot get in any other way,” says Eberhardt, who also teaches courses on brand and marketing strategy at New York University.

Thin ice

While the best-selling F-Pace glides across the frozen lake in Sweden, Jaguar’s other vehicles are on thin ice, metaphorically speaking. Despite 10 years or record-breaking sales and profits, Jaguar is, today, facing numerous challenges.

Jaguar showrooms have historically been filled with sedans – luxurious ones, fast ones, big ones and small ones – but those are falling by the wayside as driver’s increasingly choose SUVs.

On top of that, Jaguar is a relatively small company competing against much larger ones, such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Those German brands are constantly launching new models or derivatives at a pace that Jag simply can’t keep up with.

In addition, as Eberhardt explains, it’s more challenging for a relatively small automaker to make the enormous up-front investments required to compete on electric powertrains, advanced tech features and driver-assistance.

The F-Type sports car is getting a significant update for the 2021 model year.Jens Baier SeALighTArts/Courtesy of manufacturer

Ralf Speth, the CEO of Jaguar Land Rover who presided over the remarkable decade-long revival of the company, will step down from that position in September when his contract ends. Long-time design director Ian Callum also recently stepped down. It’s something of a changing of the guard at JLR headquarters, a sign the company is entering a new era.

Economic uncertainty due to Brexit and weak sales in China hurt JLR recently as well.

As a response to these challenges, the company, which last year posted its biggest quarterly loss, launched a £$2.5-billion ($4.3-billion) cost-cutting initiative and has partnered with BMW to develop electric powertrains.

In Canada, Jaguar sales were down slightly last year because of a decline in sedan sales, Eberhardt explains.

A period of “consolidation” is coming, but which, if any, models or variants might be cut from the lineup in future Eberhardt wouldn’t say.

Future models

Over the next couple of years, drivers can expect to see several updated or all-new models in Jaguar showrooms.

The lovely F-Type sports car is getting a significant update for 2021, with a new look, new digital dashboard and more powerful engines. The brand’s bestseller, the F-Pace SUV is due for a similar cosmetic and tech-focused update for the 2021 model-year.

As for the sedans, drivers’ appetite for them has diminished quicker than anyone imagined, Eberhardt explains, but it would be a mistake to abandon the segment as some other companies are doing.

Jaguar tunes its cars for snow and ice driving at the Arjeplog facility.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

For 2020, the compact XE sedan received minor styling changes and a sleek new infotainment system. Sadly, the raucous and absurdly-rapid V-6 model was also cut from the XE lineup. Jag’s mid-size XF sedan is due for a similar refresh next year.

“You never know where, long term, the global markets are going from an emissions and fuel-economy perspective,” Eberhardt says, “and it’s undoubted true that a sedan is still a more efficient vehicle [than an SUV].” In other words, if emissions regulations tighten or gas prices spike, it will behoove automakers to have sedans in showrooms.

At Jaguar’s test facility in Arjeplog, a glimpse of a more radical future for Jaguar. A heavily camouflaged prototype that appears to be the all-electric, next-generation XJ waits to go out on the ice. (In addition to hosting driving experiences, Arjeplog is also where Jaguar tunes its cars to handle on snow and ice.) Making the flagship XJ sedan electric is a bold move, something of a statement of intent: Jaguar wants to be different.

“We have maybe tried a little bit too much to be like the other [brands],” Eberhardt admits. “We have to find out again what made us unique in the first place. We’re a little more expressive. We are not for everyone.”

As we watch attendees at the Ice Academy merrily drive across the frozen lake, one of Jaguar’s professional driving instructors confirms that many people do leave Arjeplog planning to buy the latest Jaguar. It’s hardly surprising that, after two days of the best driving experience of your life, you’d want to put some part of that in your driveway to spice up the daily commute. Jaguar is banking on it.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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