The car that will make or break Jaguar
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STEVE HUNTINGFORD REPORTS ON THE HIGH-STAKES NEW XE
It started out as Swallow Sidecars, has a catalogue that includes some of the most beautiful cars ever made, and has experienced both the glory of Le Mans wins and the pain of being caught up in the mess that was British Leyland.
But this could be the most significant week in the 93-year history of the company we now know as Jaguar.
For the first time, the struggling British carmaker will let people from outside the company try its new XE saloon — designed to attract younger drivers and increase sales dramatically.
If this new audience likes it and buys it, Jaguar will join the big fish of the car industry. If they don’t, it could well mean the end of the brand.
The XE will compete in a market dominated by German manufacturers. It will spawn an estate, a 4x4 and, most likely, a coupe and convertible.
Speaking at its unveiling in London, Ralf Speth, chief executive of Jaguar and Land Rover, said: “The XE is unbelievably important. We will have an opportunity to bring younger customers [and] to bring female customers into the range of Jaguar.”
In contrast to its hugely profitable sister brand Land Rover, Jaguar has consistently struggled to make money. Jaguar sold just 81,000 cars globally in 2014; the UK figure was a paltry 15,000. These volumes simply aren’t enough to sustain it; German rivals Audi and BMW shifted 158,000 and 148,000 respectively in the UK in 2014, and both sold more than 1.5 million cars globally.
Fortunately, under its current owner, the Indian firm Tata, Jaguar seems to be finally getting the investment and backing to revive its fortunes.
Unlike most modern cars, the XE is genuinely all-new, from its lightweight aluminium body to its suspension, electronics and 2-litre diesel engine. Even the factory in Wolverhampton, where the engine is built, is new, employing 1400 people directly and almost 7000 in the UK supply chain.
Unsurprisingly, all this hasn’t come cheap. The engine factory alone cost £500 million, while the overall investment in infrastructure and technology came to more than £2 billion. If this fails to lead to a big increase in sales, Tata will be tempted to cut its losses and concentrate on the Land Rover part of the business.
It would be the second time that Jaguar would have failed in this sector; its previous attempt was the retro X-type, which was discontinued in 2009 after eight years of sluggish sales.
Tata’s investment in aluminium construction techniques and the new-generation engine wouldn’t go to waste, because both are already shared with Land Rover. However, it seems far more likely that the XE and its spin-off models will succeed.
A Telegraph drive of a prototype XE suggested that it will offer a blend of comfort and driving fun that none of its rivals can match. And the new diesel engine emits as little as 99g/km of CO2 — a lower figure than any diesel rival.
It was a very different story with the X-type, which was initially available only with thirsty petrol engines and was based on Ford’s Mondeo family car, something which did untold damage to Jaguar’s reputation.
Deliveries begin in New Zealand from August.
- Daily Telegraph