Ghost of X-Types Past

Jaguar’s decision not to give the XE an estate variant is either an expedient commercial decision or another case of History Repeating©. Which is it?

Remind you of anything? Image:jaguar-france.blogspot
Remind you of anything? Image:jaguar-france.blogspot

I’m sorry if this comes across as being repetitive, but like a man with a sore tooth, I seem incapable of leaving this subject alone. Anyway, I think it’s been well established that repetition is very much the leitmotif when it comes to the subject of Jaguar. Certainly Ian Callum’s statement last month that the luxury car maker had no plans to introduce estate variants elicited a certain amount of hand-wringing round these parts, not because they have traditionally formed part of the marque’s so called DNA, but more that by ruling out additional body styles, Jaguar seems to be hobbling itself.

Callum’s subsequent twitter clarification stated he in fact told journalists there would be no ‘Sportsbrake’ variant of the XE saloon, which was closely followed by well placed leaks of a forthcoming estate version of XF. Confused? Well, you’re not alone, but such are the machinations of latter-day automotive spin. So if JLR has in fact ruled out an XE Sportbrake, have their product planners concluded the volumes don’t justify the expenditure, or have they made a grave error?

Estate sales in this segment are difficult to quantify, (being mostly bundled in with those of saloons) but a glance at current sales figures does offer the following insight – model lines offering a choice of bodystyles consistently outsell those who don’t. The saloon-only XE gained just over 8000 sales in the first quarter of this year, giving Jaguar 7th place overall. Behind the XE, every rival is offered in a single bodystyle, but from 6th place Volvo S/V60 (12,412 sales) upwards, each entrant is available in multiple formats. Estates remain popular in Germany and the UK, customers it seems, liking the increased versatility and in most cases, more attractive lines, but if JLR are correct in their reading of the runes regarding the estate bodystyle, what alternative do they have?

A speculative render of the XE in Sportbrake form. Image:autowereld
What you’re not getting. A speculative render of the XE in Sportbrake form. Image:autowereld

Well, the obvious one is a coupé. Both the BMW 4-Series – (available in three body styles – Q1 sales 17,684) and the Audi A5 family – again in three flavours – Q1 sales 12,682) comfortably outsell the XE, and we can safely assume this is also the case for the Mercedes C-Class Coupe – (sales for this model also bundled into the model’s overall total). These may not be huge numbers, but they represent additional volume (and these are profitable cars) well worth having. And unlike estates, coupé’s do have a more global appeal.

Last year the European mid-sized prestige sector was worth in the region of 500,000 sales. Given a following wind, JLR are likely to shift around 30,000 XE’s throughout Europe this year. Add in the rest of the World and they might just crack 50,000 cars, which doesn’t sound like a lot. Realistically, Jaguar is unlikely to significantly grow XE’s market share with a single bodystyle. Last September, JLR’s Bob Grace told journalists; “we just want to carve a niche out for ourselves”, but you don’t spend £billions on an all-new car only for it to ‘carve a niche’.

This is your lot. Image:Carssoo
Is this your lot? Oh well, at least you can’t see the taillights. Image:Carssoo

Because the dead cat on the table here is X-Type shaped. This model failed for a variety of quite complex reasons, but one of them was that it was restricted to a single body style for the crucial early years of its life. By the time an estate was launched in 2004, the car’s sales momentum was lost. These failings Jaguar appear to be in the process of repeating here, begging the question of how JLR really views XE and what plans (if any) they have to give the car a fighting chance?

2016 Q1 sales data can be viewed in detail at left-lane.com

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “Ghost of X-Types Past”

  1. My long and incisive comment was lost.
    Here I go again.

    Yes, more body-styles are a bonus and if a firm has the cash flow then it’s a good idea to offer them. For Volvo and Jaguar it’s hard to break to vicious circle of lacking the volume to generate the cash to capture the volume that variants provide.
    What’s involved in an estate? New roof, new doors, new tailgate, reworked interior trim from the b-pillar back plus adjusted suspension. It’s probably as much as 20% of the cost of a whole new car. If they had the money hanging about then it would be a good idea to invest it as they’d get the cash back. As it is they don’t have the money.

    1. I read somewhere, not long ago, that 90% of current Passat sales in Germany are wagons. From observation when I was in Bremen and Hamburg earlier this month, the same applies to the entire premium sector: 3 and 5 Series Tourings, Audi Avants, Isabella Combis…

      New XFs outnumbered XEs, and F Types outnumbered either of the saloons.

      My recollection is that the X Type wagon was a sales success, the same was true of the Rover 75 and MG ZT ‘Tourers’, cars that very nearly didn’t happen. But that was over a decade ago, and Britain has now gone solidly SUV.

      China and the USA call the shots now, and they have no interest in premium station wagons. The notion of an XE Sportsbrake appeals, but it ain’t going to happen for the benefit of a potential market of 100 million northern Europeans who are already spoiled for choice.

  2. It’s not rare for there to be a lapse after a new model is introduced before other variants, such as estates, are introduced. But Jaguar have taken it to extremes in the past. The first XF was long-established when the Sportsbrake version was released, and one wondered whether it would recoup its development. I’ve never owned a saloon, flattering myself that my life is too functional (I can’t think of a better word since ‘active’ suggests rather more extreme sports than I actually indulge in). So, to me, an XE Sportsbrake would be a far more attractive idea that a saloon. But then, since space is cheap and modern styling makes them look more coherent, I don’t actually know why the estate isn’t the default for most cars, with the saloon being an odd niche. But then I don’t understand why people buy trainers or why the satisfyingly lurid ‘Rome’ TV series only lasted two seasons.

    1. I agree about estates making a lot more sense than saloons. Before the current fad for crossovers estates seemed to be the default choice in certain countries, from experience, The Czech Republic and to a lesser extent, Italy whereas other countries resolutely ignored estates; I’m thinking specifically of Spain.

      I do hope that Jaguar drops the ludicrous Sportbrake name. The whole association of the word sport with cars is wearing a bit thin. Driving a car on the road isn’t remotely sporty and neither should it be.

  3. You’ve not mentioned the F-Pace. This is the model that Jaguar have bet on in lieu of estates, surely? It doesn’t appeal to me, but from a marketing stand point I understand the decision.

    1. The F-Pace is aimed at a higher price point than a putative XE estate and is closer in dimensions to the XF. Actually, test mules for Jaguar’s smaller (XE-sized) crossover are already being papped, suggesting it will slot into the space vacated by the lack of an XE ‘Sportbrake’ when it launches in about a year’s time.

      Clearly Jaguar would be committing commercial suicide if they didn’t join the crossover gangbang, but given their positioning, to say nothing of their ‘values’ – (to coin this month’s theme) – they should be producing something a little more alluring than the Solihull 3-Series. A sleek and sinuous looking coupe perhaps?

      I read today XE production is being moved to make way for ramped up F-Pace assembly, given its 25,000 pre-orders and current three month waiting list. Further signs that XE is indeed dragging its kitten heels?

  4. In my opinion, the two main mistakes JLR has made regarding the XE are of the stylistic kind. Jaguar, lest we forget, has always been a brand that’s first and foremost about looks. Bill Lyons instinctively lent the best Jags a sense of flamboyance that magically avoided becoming vulgar. And while the XE is hardly vulgar, it’s even farther removed from being flamboyant in any way. But Jags need to stand out. This same problem also applies to the new XF. I considered its predecessor a first, somewhat timid step towards a more striking interpretation of modernity – an interpretation that appeared to be justified when the X351 XJ was unveiled. But since then – disregarding, to a point, the F-type – Jaguar’s styling seems to have taken a retrograde direction. Such conservatism isn’t bad in itself and works for a company such as Audi, but – I’m sorry for repeating myself – Jags need to stand out.

    But more disheartening than this lack of understanding for the brand is the outright incompetence that seems to be at the heart of Jaguar’s current interiors. I know it’s hardly a universally loved car, but the X351’s cabin is a delight, to this very day. A Maserati Quattroporte VI can only dream of an ambience like the Jaguar’s. With its credentials proven so impressively, how dare Callum et al come up with interior designs as dull and (in terms of perceived quality) unacceptable as the XE’s/F-pace’s? I’m hardly part of the Alfa Giulia fan club, but that car at least retained a modicum of Latin flair, if specced correctly. The Jags’ cabins look like half-arsed attempts to do a Germanic interior on a budget.

    I feel the newest generation of Jaguars will be in for a facelift very soon indeed.

    1. I imagine given current sales figures, it’s being fast-tracked as we speak. And if it isn’t, it should be.

  5. You’re quite right about the Bob Grace “we just want to carve a niche out for ourselves” comment. Are JLR all marching to the same hymn book? In a flooded market, it’s a really sensible idea to look beyond cut-price fleet sales and creating another clone ‘German’ brand. So why don’t they try?

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