Back in the spring of 2009, a writer with the initials "J.C." pointed out that in the 19 years Ford owned Jaguar, 1989-08, it had spent at least $15-billion (U.S.) to $20-billion trying to turn the British company into a high-volume, premium auto maker. Ford, I declared, had been monstrously unsuccessful in its efforts to make something of both Jaguar and Land Rover, the SUV brand.
What a difference a decade has made for Jaguar Land Rover [JLR]. Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, predicted recently that in 10 years, JLR will become a legitimate rival to the three premium German auto makers, BMW, Audi and Mercedes.
The same company that in 2009 pleaded with the Blair government for financial assistance to survive is today generating billions in profits. And it is reinvesting those dollars in new products – the F-Type coupe being the latest – and new manufacturing plants worldwide, from Britain to Brazil to China. JLR may be the world's most advanced auto maker when it comes to lightweight aluminum technology.
JLR last year sold 425,000 vehicles globally and some company officials believe sales of one million a year is possible within 10 years.
"The make-or-break car is the new sedan," JLR North American president Joe Eberhardt told me, during a recent dinner.
That would be the XE, which will ride on the fifth-generation aluminum platform underneath the C-X17 crossover unveiled at last year's Frankfurt motor show and later displayed at Toronto's auto show. The XE will be the first of a new line of smaller Jags, and company officials readily admit it's aimed squarely at BMW's 3-Series.
With it in place, some suggest that the XE line could enjoy sales of 150,000, perhaps 200,000 a year. If so, annual JLR sales of 600,000-plus seem easily attainable in the near term. JLR Canada president Lindsay Duffield last year pointed to a global sales target of 750,000 units by the end of the decade.
In the car business, sales numbers are the fruit of planning from years before. This is the sort of thing Rob Filipovic engages in, as the general manager of Jaguar product management, for North America. What you're seeing now, he says, sprouted from the Ford days starting in 2006 and running through the early days of Tata's purchase of JLR in the summer of 2008.
What Filipovic terms "resurgence" of the Jag brand running to 2010 began with the XF sedan and then wrapped with the arrival of the all-new XJ. From 2011-12, the work focused on consolidating technologies, such as all-wheel drive, which has been such a boon to Jaguar Canada. And now Jag is busy launching "breakthrough" products such as the F-Type Convertible last year and the F-Type Coupe now.
"How far we can potentially stretch the brand going forward … that is a fair question," he says. The XE, he insists, will be a compact sport sedan "completely unique to Jaguar and unlike anything else on the road today. This is the next stage of Jaguar becoming a broader brand in the market."
Last year, global sales hit 77,000, a 42 per cent year-on-year increase. If the XE succeeds, that line – including some sort of compact crossover vehicle – could triple or even quadruple Jag's sales volume. A big "if" for a small brand.
"Now we're in the stage of increasing the relevance of the brand," he adds, pointing to the role of the XF sports cars as critical to creating awareness with a "halo" model.
Another piece was the Super Bowl ad that featured Jag's ongoing "British Villains," with the tagline "It's good to be bad." The products and the promotions need to hit all the right notes.
Land Rover, meanwhile, is striking off in its own bold direction. This spring at the New York auto show, Land Rover unwrapped the Discovery Vision Concept as part of a larger announcement around the first nameplate in a redesigned Discovery family. The Discovery Sport premium compact SUV is likely to replace the Freelander/LR2 in 2015.
What Land Rover didn't announce formally in New York is a plan to create three distinct model lines, as reported in Automotive News: the Range Rover line for luxury SUV buyers, the Discovery line for mid-range customers and the Defender entry line. Land Rover plans to broaden and clarify its offerings using this "three-pillar" approach.
The premium cars marketplace might be suffering a bit of fatigue with the established and dominant German brands. If so, that creates an opportunity for fresh-faced JLR to attract new buyers looking for something not seen on every other street corner.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Jaguar is launching the XF Convertible and XF Coupe. In fact, Jaguar is launching F-Type Convertible and the F-Type Coupe.
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