As we continue our XJ40 commemorations, we examine the car through the prism of sales and marketing with Jaguar Heritage’s Jonathan Partridge.
There’s more than one dimension to the back story of any car. Up to now, we’ve concentrated primarily on the ’40 from an engineering perspective, but today, we examine the car’s legacy with Jonathan Partridge, former Product Strategy Manager who over a lengthy career at Jaguar, oversaw the marketing strategy for a host of saloon programmes, culminating with the 2007 XF. He is currently Vehicle Collection & Communication Manager with Jaguar Heritage at its Gaydon nervecentre.
Having begun his career at Ford, Partridge joined Jaguar’s nascent product planning team in 1984, finding Browns Lane something of a foreign country. Wryly, he points out. “Marketing was almost like a new concept when I joined.” As the last function of the business to be wrested from BL’s grasp, Partridge and his former ‘Bickenhill’ colleagues found themselves at the vanguard of an entirely new type of activity. “Doing widespread consumer research was something I don’t think the car business had done all that much of. Ford were probably into a bit of that, but the idea of having full scale consumer clinics where you would actually put a design concept in front of a group of people who represented your target market – that was real cutting edge thinking in the mid-80s.”
As saloon car product strategy manager, XJ40 was his prime focus during 1984; one of his first jobs being to produce the ‘Marketing Platform Document’ for the car. “It went to the sales organisations [and] gave them a brief to what [XJ40] was all about – specification details, comparison charts facing the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes S-Class and a resume of the market research – the ‘take to market plan’, timings – all that kind of stuff.”
For Partridge and his new planning and marketing cohorts, XJ40 really couldn’t come a moment too soon; the prevailing view being the existing model was very much yesterday’s car. “I can remember once describing a series III, you felt like you going along in a vehicle that was made of thousands of parts that were loosely joined together and moving roughly in the same direction!” Nonetheless, there did appear to be an Atlantic sized gap between perceptions in the US market and elsewhere. “Perhaps the markets were a little more polarised then, because it [Series III] was seen in Europe as fading a bit. There was more of a love affair with the more traditional Jaguar design in the US.” Certainly, the forthcoming model seemed like a better fit with Sales and Marketing division’s view for a contemporary Jaguar. “I embraced the ’40 programme – I think I could see it was a much more modern product in every respect.”
1984 was originally intended to be XJ40′ launch year, but behind the scenes the programme was beset by drama. Intended for launch that autumn, the schedule was hit by a massive broadside when an crucial piece of market research gave Jaguar the shock of their lives. “The crunch one was a US consumer clinic which was done in the New York area and we were slightly horrified by the general feedback. The exterior got the thumbs up, they thought that was a good modern, clean step forward but the interior came back with a huge thumbs down because this was no longer going to be a ‘dials on a plank’ type of car. So there was a sharp intake of breath and the directive came back that we have to do something with the interior. That was actually a pretty major piece of re-engineering of a large chunk of the IP. Because Jaguar was so dependent on the US market – 40% of the total business, they couldn’t afford to get it wrong there. I think it was one of the key reasons the programme timing got pushed back.” Almost inevitably, once a project as significant as this hits a major setback, other imperatives come into play – soon XJ40 would be delayed further still. “The Jaguar business was still a pretty immature and rather shambolic place back then and probably everybody jumped on the bandwagon to then continue other bits of the engineering of the car with the result that in the end we weren’t able to launch until 1986.”
Despite these setbacks however, confidence in XJ40 amid Sales and Marketing remained high and a vast amount of work remained to be done to prepare for launch. “I probably spent a large part of ’84-86 doing the feature cross comparisons, looking at the 7-Series and the S-Class and trying to make sure we had a good model line-up. I remember there was a big desire to get some real headline pricing – I think if I remember rightly at launch the 2.9 XJ6, we got it in at £16,495 and the 3.6 at £19,495, which did knock the competition a bit.”
A consequence of this headline grabbing pricing for the entry level models was the omission of Jaguar’s traditional leather interior in favour of herringbone tweed cloth for the seats, which Partridge recalls did cause some unintended irritation. “I remember, we had the Wool Federation wanting us to promote this, so we had to put a little swing tag on the headrest stem with the woolmark to promote the fact that this wasn’t a synthetic fabric like everyone else was using. I mean it didn’t actually alter the fact that it was fairly prickly to sit on. I remember someone saying if you’ve got one of those, don’t ever try driving it wearing shorts – it will drive you mad after the first 50 miles! So it was a little bit of an own goal…”
Part two here
Thanks to Jonathan Partridge for his kind assistance.
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