One of the biggest problems associated with living in the past is that developmental fire can be removed from a firm’s belly, highlights Iain Robertson, as he believes strongly that, if Jaguar Cars is to survive, it must move beyond static navel-gazing.
There, by the grace of God, a blend of British R&D support and Indian conglomerate funding goes Jaguar Land Rover. While many of the issues confronting the JLR enterprise remain extant, I want to concentrate less on its bigger partner but more on its relatively small and sporty companion, Jaguar, which would create a devastating impact, were it to turn up its toes, without addressing publicly its future.
Jaguar has always been a small player possessing a disproportionately large fan base. In some ways, it is the Lincoln City Football Club of its era. To be frank, I should steer clear of soccer analogies, as I know significantly less about that sport than I do about some others. Yet, residing as I do on the side-lines of that lovely historical city, in a village a dozen miles from its centre, I have observed the rise of its local team’s fortunes, mated as they were to a dedicated and renegade management structure, which turned it from a mid-term Saturday riot to a much-loved and championship winning, familial treat.
We all know that the pandemic has played a destructive hand across many industries and people over the past couple of years. Just as a lack of paying spectators at matches has been very painful at club level, Jaguar is blighted currently by a distinct shortage of imported technological componentry that is bringing its production lines to a grinding halt. This is unhelpful. However, it also presents a valuable time bonus, during which attention can be directed towards styling, future technology and, with a new boss on-board, a renewed sense of direction, rather than hollow verbiage and zero follow-through (I confess that I know even less about golf!).
Naturally, the company needs to shore up and alter its shockingly poor reliability record, a factor that has been turning away even its most ardent supporters to other upmarket brands, which means the Teutonic Threesome and Lexus. However vital the action taken might be, unreliability is an internal struggle to be overcome and remedied regardless but every little helps. Brand perception is essential but producing cars in Austria, China and India but swearing that the brand is British is not substantial enough, even though economies of scale, important growth market access and national pride may be at stake.
When I first tested the Jaguar F-Pace in 2016, I had an overriding sense of the model’s non-Jaguarness. I seem to recall that, were I to remove the badges, a most timely, if late to the party, model could have been from any one of several other manufacturers. It was an impression wrought by the car’s expanses of cabin dark grey and piano black fillets. Where was the celebratory wood? Even its hide covered seats and door cards could have originated in Munich, or Japan, as they lacked both a Connolly signature and British tactility. As a member of the Jaguar fan base, anticipating a sense of occasion, I was heartily disappointed.
Planting an XF estate car body on a hiked-up Land Rover platform may have served purpose but proved ultimately dissatisfying. I cannot accept that the firm’s replacement (for Ian Callum) styling boss, Julian Thompson, who joined JLR in 2019 but departed at the end of May this year, can have felt anything less than frustrated at what he discovered at Jaguar. Either his hands were tied, or the challenges for change were just too great to overcome. Yet, his encouraging words about the future of Jaguar Cars may have been stymied by his boss, Gerry McGovern, whose nose may be too close to the coalface and whom may be considered as having been in the job for too long now.
The most recent introduction of an R-Dynamic Black Pack for the F-Pace is truly not worth celebrating. Some masking tape, rubbing compound, fine glasspaper and cans of matt and gloss black spray paint bought from Halfords are significantly less costly than the £6,100 premium being asked for the ‘new’ model, even after commissioning a Master Painter to apply the changes. Jaguar does not need bling. It needs to concentrate on what made it great in the past: value for money…classical elegance…a distinct voice (difficult with a BEVs future)…wood and hide…superb dynamics, all, or most, of which seem to have been squandered to a greater corporate god. It is either that, or admit defeat and roll down the shutters.
Where does Jaguar stand at present? It is like the proverbial headless chicken, blind to its future but pretending, like the comedic but denuded emperor that his invisible new robes are worth seeing in all their glory. The Black Pack models start at £46,765, with the racy 550bhp SVR version (0-60mph in 3.8s, 178mph top speed) tagged at £78,165 and topping the line-up, factors that tip ‘value for money’ right out of the window. There are still far too many diesel and insufficient petrol-electrified variants available in the F-Pace range, the very aspect that cost the company big sales in China and its most major, financial stumbling block of the past few years. It promises full brand electrification by 2025 but we have heard this talk before.
In truth, I really feel for Tata Motors, Jaguar’s Indian owner. While it is gaining some reward from Land Rover, the tiddler sister operation is also its most costly to manage, despite shared technology. Jaguar Cars needs to look carefully at its laurels but, while being influenced by them, it cannot be controlled by them; a difficult dichotomy to balance. Yet, it needs to offer an unique, if narrow, range of appeal. My advice, for what it is worth, is for Jaguar to revisit and even incorporate the past but drive it forwards at speed, because if it does not, the doors will close anyway.
Conclusion: Jaguar Cars does not need breathing space but neither does it need ‘big brother’ breathing down its neck. Sadly, if it continues in its present vein, it will become the ultimate loser.