We continue our assessment of the Jaguar X-Type
With X400 a priority Ford Motor Company project, resources were flung at Jaguar’s Whitley engineering centre to expedite development. Extensive use of computer aided design slashed gestation time and prototypes were sent to far-flung outposts from Timmins in the Canadian wilderness to the high speed Nardo circuit in Southern Italy. Intelligent use of shared components shaved cost from the project, but any savings were quickly reabsorbed by the necessity to refit and re-purpose the former Escort plant at Halewood to the tune of £300m to accommodate X400. As costs escalated, the break-even point for the car rose exponentially. Volumes of over 100,000 per annum became essential for the viability of the model line. With three disparate production facilities in Coventry, Birmingham and now Liverpool, Jaguar had become a rather fragmented business and from a logistical perspective, a difficult one to manage, but it appears now that Ford executives had already started looking at shifting production out of Jaguar’s spiritual Browns Lane home.
With so much committed to the project, it was vital to speedily recoup their investment, so X400 was fast-tracked; launching in October 2001 minus several key strands to its armour. Advertising illustrated glamorous looking thirty-somethings smouldering at one another over an atmospheric Chris Isaac soundtrack. The New Jag Generation tagline featured prominently. Initially offered in saloon form only with engines of either 3.0 or 2.5 litres and standard AWD. Alternative body styles were promised, as was the prospect of smaller displacement engines. Initial reactions to the car were broadly positive and early sales were promising. Criticism of the styling was conspicuous by its absence – in fact most commentators were complimentary. Ford execs believed they could achieve most of X-Type’s volume through the US market, where the lack of engine choice and body styles would be less of an issue. But there was trepidation too, Jaguar’s US sales chief, Mike O’Driscoll telling Autoweek in 2001; “We’re in the risk-taking business guys. We’ve got hundreds of millions invested in this car and if people don’t like it we’re in trouble”.
Trouble followed swiftly thereafter however as X-Type’s honeymoon proved short-lived. While the 3-litre model performed well, the 2.5-litre unit proved underpowered but cost as much to run. Because the X-Type was designed for a transverse installation, an image-building performance model would need to be derived from the existing V6. A supercharged model was reputedly developed, but was overtaken by events before it saw the light of day. These being serious durability issues – (largely confined to the US market) – quickly gaining the model a reputation for chronic unreliability and expensive repair bills in its most vital market. Driveline faults were at root, the fragile transfer case being the main cause – as were electronic glitches. As the bad news spread, sales faltered, peaking in 2003 at around 70,000 per annum, well short of the model’s break-even point.
Jaguar’s rivals didn’t sit on their hands either. Audi launched a new generation A4 in 2000, the same year Mercedes’ W204 C-Class debuted. Both cars and BMW’s class-leading 3-Series were available in multiple body styles and engine permutations. As was Alfa Romeo’s critically acclaimed 156. While the Jaguar was not disgraced by its rivals, it failed to deliver a serious blow to any of them. However, BMW’s E90 3-Series did when it launched in 2004 – Jaguar’s pipe and slippers ambience shown for the creative cul de sac it was by Chris Bangle’s modish and arresting ‘Flame Surfaces’.
Furthermore, throughout Europe, X-Type also failed to appeal to the ‘New Jag Generation’, finding favour with a generation of a more senior mantle. Popular with downsizing retirees, X-Type’s customer profile did nothing to reverse Jaguar’s ownership median age. Thrusting young marketing managers weren’t especially keen on something that looked like their dad’s car. The XJ had been on the roads since 1968 and each successive iteration (with one or two exceptions) only diluted the impact of the original. Furthermore, the initial lack of engine options around 2-litres put it outside affordable tax bands in several European markets and a lack of a diesel option proved incredibly shortsighted.
The X-Type never recovered. All further thoughts of halo models were consigned to the realm of fantasy. Instead, Ford concentrated fire on the hitherto neglected European market; diesel and estate models being rushed out to stem the losses now threatening to drive Jaguar towards bankruptcy. The availability of a 2.0-litre diesel option and the more visually harmonious estate improved the model’s fortunes slightly, but by mid-decade the game was up. Development had more or less stalled and with all three Jaguar saloon lines selling poorly, it was a case of all hands to the lifeboats.
In part three, we examine the X-Type’s demise, aftermath, and conclude our assessment.
Credits – see part 1
Photos: AROnline/autoblog/jaglovers.org/Car Design News