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Why Jaguar is finally thriving (and rolling in cash) under Tata

Jaguar F-Type convertible

Jaguar

Jaguar and its Land Rover sibling are hiring so many new employees here in Coventry that, well, the walk into headquarters and the factory from the parking lot is quite a hike. There just isn't enough parking on the main grounds.

This is what happens when you're a car company whose Jaguar brand alone saw sales surge 42 per cent globally in 2013, with Canadian sales up a stunning 96 per cent. Jaguar Land Rover sales overall last year were up 19 per cent to 425,006. And annual profits are now in the billions.

This month Jaguar is showcasing its new F-Type Coupe, which follows the launch of the F-Type Convertible last year. And this duo comes after the introduction of all-wheel drive to Jaguar's lineup, which in large part explains the big jump in Jag sales in Canada. Coming in 2015 is a small sedan built on an all-new aluminum flexible platform. We're seeing an impressive array of new models and technologies in a very small window for Jag.

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"Now we're in the stage of increasing the relevance of the brand," says Rob Filipovic, head of Jaguar product management in North America.

Jaguar is doing what was impossible under the previous owner, Ford Motor, which sold JLR to India's Tata conglomerate in 2009. That is, Jaguar is growing and making money.

When Tata bought JLR, I suggested that my back-of-the-envelope calculation showed that Ford had spent $50-billion on Jag over 20 years of ownership, without ever turning an annual profit. Not once.

"So why is Jaguar growing and making money with Tata?" asked my cousin, Michael Cato, who lives in the British Midlands less than an hour away from JLR headquarters, which means he naturally takes a keen interest in the local business. As a guest in his house, I had to conjure up some sort of answer.

And it's this: Ford, a mainstream auto maker with a truly global footprint, focused on fitting Jaguar into Ford. The "cowboys" at Ford, as JLR insides refer to them, roared in with loads of money and a swaggering confidence.

On the plus side, Ford did an amazing job of reinventing JLR's manufacturing facilities and processes. Indeed, JLR types willingly say they'd not be around at all today without the Ford money and expertise. But on the product side, Ford looked for ways to spread costs right across Ford's product lineup, the global one.

Thus, the Ford Mondeo in Europe spawned the Jaguar X-Type small sedan. Everyone could see the X-Type was a gussied-up Mondeo, despite the all-wheel drive and wood trim. It was a disaster and an embarrassment.

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How does this sort of thing happen? One Jag insider told me that when Ford's big bosses in Dearborn, Mich., put Jaguar on the agenda at headquarters, JLR was item 22 or 23. JLR, then, had to fit into and around items 1-21.

Under Tata, JLR is a top priority, No. 1 or 2 at every corporate meeting. The new Tata ownership had plenty of management and even automotive experience when they took over, but they freely admitted they knew nothing about luxury vehicles. So they turned the business over to a JLR management group that focused on building a premium lineup of cars and light trucks without the burden of finding synergies with the likes of a Ford Mondeo. Tata provided capital and overall direction, but JLR was charged with reinventing itself without any of the cowboy-like advice that had been commonplace under Ford.

JLR doesn't have to fit into Tata Motors in the same way it was pressured to under Ford. In fact, JLR for the present is making gobs of money for Tata Motors – profits the likes of which Ford never saw during its run as owner. Surely there are people at Ford now who look on with amazement and perhaps a big dose of consternation.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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