In Emergency Dial ‘F’

Sports models have kept Jaguar in business in the US market for decades, so what’s the matter with their saloons?

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Photo: Jaguar Cars USA

At Driven to Write, we are constantly at pains to point out the repetitive nature of Jaguar’s history, much of which has to do with the marque’s frequent lapses into commercial and financial abysses. For example, during the mid-1960’s Jaguar’s sales in the US slumped dramatically on the back of the commercial failure of the MK 10 and S-Type saloons.

Fortunately for Jaguar, the US market had developed an insatiable appetite for the E-Type – one Browns Lane struggled to meet owing to Sir William Lyons’ unwillingness to finance the body tooling that would have allowed them to produce the model in sufficient quantities. Nevertheless, throughout the decade, the ‘E’ essentially kept Jaguar afloat in the US until the XJ6 arrived and took up the cause.

Twenty years later, Jaguar’s fortunes were again failing in the US – the XJ40 saloon being prey to quality and build issues that stemmed from its troubled gestation. However, the well-proven and (broadly) reliable XJ-S GT was in the midst of an Indian Summer sales-wise, providing Jaguar’s dealers with something they could sell – at least until Browns Lane got to grips with the ’40’.

Reel forward to 2014 and once again, Jaguar’s saloon car sales in the US are in significant decline. As we’ve previously reported, sales of the XJ are down 16% over the first seven months of 2014, against the same period last year. Similarly, over the same period, sales of the XF have fallen 17%. Less surprisingly, the soon to be discontinued XK is also flatlining. The only bright spot for Jaguar and their US dealers is the F-Type – up 48% over the same period last year.

So what does any of the above actually tell us? Well, it suggests that anyone who believes Jaguar shouldn’t be diverting its resources into sports cars but instead concentrate on saloons simply doesn’t understand the US market, a misapprehension perhaps Jaguar themselves have fallen prey to.

Because time after time, Americans have told Jaguar they want sports models, yet Jaguar repeatedly sends them saloons. Saloons they clearly don’t appear interested in, which suggests that either the US market doesn’t want Jaguar saloons, or they don’t want the kind of saloons Jaguar offer.

The F-Type was intended as a halo model – a low-volume image builder that would propel customers into dealers to buy Jaguar saloons in ever-increasing numbers. In fact the opposite appears to be occurring, while Jaguar’s former heartland car – the XJ, seems to be in terminal decline. The XF is likely to be replaced within 18-months, so its sales slide is perhaps easier to quantify.

Now this clearly is not a catastrophe – not as yet anyway, but these figures should cause a considerable degree of soul-searching back at JLR towers. Because on current form, the only Jaguar model that appeals to US tastes is their lowest volume car. Begging the question – what kind of Jaguar will it take to turn their fortunes around in what has traditionally been their biggest and most lucrative market?

US sales data source: The Truth About Cars

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

2 thoughts on “In Emergency Dial ‘F’”

  1. Q. what kind of Jaguar saloon will it take to turn their fortunes around in what has traditionally been their biggest and most lucrative market?

    A. a SUV.

  2. As Eoin perceptively pointed out at its launch, the XJ is in many ways as much the spiritual successor to the underappreciated Mark 10 as any previous XJ. This seems to be being borne out by the sales figures. Jaguar’s stylists can’t do right with some critics. The XF and XE don’t look different enough from a generic Lexus to take their interest and the XJ looks too different from an AudiBMWMercedes to be taken seriously. I like the XJ and always notice one in London traffic, whereas I don’t clock S Classes and 7 Series. Which, as you’ve probably already thought, could be because the XJ remains relatively rare – even in Central London, where you can’t move for Bentleys and their like. For me, the fact that the XJ is so nimble is a big plus, though its cabin visibility and mediocre headroom is not. I also think its interior is more fun. But I’m not in the market for one and, for many buyers, the virtues they look for are different. Good styling is certainly not high on the list of priorities, otherwise Mercedes would have gone under 10 years ago. Once acquired, reputations are hard to shed. You may be right, Eoin, and that the US public will forever see Jaguar as primarily a maker of sports cars, who push out a few saloons on the side. Also, Jaguar’s once deserved poor reliability reputation lingers, but people are happier to buy sports cars with a ropey reputation for reliability than ‘serious’ cars.

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