Jaguar Bets on the New XE
Jaguar has had quite a history. From humble beginnings making motorcycle side-cars, it went on to make some of the most spectacular cars in the history of motoring.
The E-Type in particular is one of the world’s most iconic cars, and Enzo Ferrari, no less, said that it was the most beautiful car in the world. That in itself is fine praise indeed, but when you consider that the E-Type could outperform some of the Ferraris of the day and cost less than half of the price, it says a lot that Enzo Ferrari would praise the car so highly. Moving into the 1970s, Jaguar built the XJS, a luxury grand tourer that was perhaps not as beautiful as the E-Type but is now beginning to get the recognition it deserves. The XJ6 saloon, meanwhile, became the definitive executive car and continued to be built, largely unchanged, for many years.
The 1970s also saw Jaguar become embroiled in the British Leyland fiasco. It was a social experiment in government ownership of car companies that brought us such classics as the Morris Marina and Austin Allegro - cars that were so bad in almost every regard that they contributed to the almost total destruction of the British car industry. Jaguar managed to survive, however, and after various changes of ownership is now in the hands of the Indian conglomerate Tata as part of Jaguar Land Rover. Land Rover has enjoyed something of a renaissance under Tata’s ownership, but Jaguar has continued to struggle.
The reason for this is probably the market position of each brand. Land Rover is renowned as the prestige marque for 4x4s, or SUVs as they are now called, and with the Land Rover and Range Rover names it dominates the market. Things aren’t as clear-cut for Jaguar. In the executive saloon market, they come up against some of the most impressive names in the industry, including BMW, Mercedes and Audi. That is tough competition indeed, but Jaguar faces more problems when it comes to the scale of the operation. The company sold 81,000 cars worldwide in 2014, with just 15,000 cars sold in the company’s home market of the UK. To put this sales performance into context, both Audi and BMW managed around 150,000 car sales in the UK and more than one million worldwide. Put bluntly, Jaguar isn’t just lagging behind in the sales race, it is being lapped and is orders of magnitude behind its most important competitors. The cars are good, but they just don’t sell enough, and this means that they cannot achieve the economies of scale enjoyed by the bigger brands.
This is why the new Jaguar XE is so important. It is Jaguar’s first offering in the compact executive saloon class since the late and unlamented X-Type (which was really just a Ford Mondeo in a posh frock). The XE has the potential to become a volume sales car and lift Jaguar into the kind of production scale where it needs to be in order to be profitable.
So is the XE up to the job? It just might be. Unusually for the modern car industry, this is genuinely a new car and not just some makeover of a body bolted on to existing underpinnings. It is made from lightweight aluminium, which means that it handles particularly well while remaining frugal when it comes to fuel consumption. Every component is new and so is the factory where it is to be built, a spanking new plant in Wolverhampton. Developing the new car and building the factory has cost Jaguar around £2 billion, so it is fortunate that the new owners, Tata, have such deep pockets. Early feedback from prototype test drives have been positive, with the XE displaying an excellent combination of comfort and genuine driving fun that is truly engaging. It also has super-low emissions of just 99g/km of CO2, and the diesel version can achieve 75mpg on the combined cycle.
The Jaguar XE is going to be good - of that there is no doubt. But it is going up against proven winners like the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class, so it is going to have to be very good indeed to win sales from that lot. Is it good enough? Sales of the XE start in May, so we shall find out soon enough.