We’re talking about Jaguar today. I know, again…
Last month, I felt the need to talk to you about XE, which I’ll admit made for some uncomfortable reading. But not content with establishing History Repeating© as Jaguar’s mood-music, the ‘World’s Least Influential’ Jaguar critic is drilling deeper still by repeating himself thematically. Not I might add because he necessarily wants to, but because he finds it cathartic and more to the point, his editor told him to.
Since its launch a decade ago, XF has been Jaguar’s heartland model, sitting in what has become the executive sweet spot and while anything but compact is just about as large a saloon as needs be. Introduced in 2015, this second-generation XF is based on the same aluminium-intensive modular IQ platform that underpins both XE and F-Pace models as well as Range Rover’s forthcoming Velar.
XF and XE share a good deal of their respective body structures, along with engines, running gear and much external style. Dimensionally, only 12.5 cm separate them in wheelbase, 1.6 cm in width, 4.1 cm in height and 28.2 cm in overall length, most of which lies aft of the b-pillar. Style-wise, it’s virtually impossible to tell one from another – both employing the decade-old X250’s styling theme as visual pivot point. The rationale for this being the stated necessity to establish brand-Jaguar’s identity, a matter this scribe has taken issue with in the past. Surely the proof of the matter lies in the sales figures, so has Ralph Speth and his minions been proven correct?
On current form, no. XF sales are stagnating, stalled at similar levels to the run-out volumes of its predecessor. One would expect a decent uplift with the advent of an all-new model, but not only does there appear to be little evidence of this, European XF sales for 2016 are in fact down on the previous year. The current model was introduced into the US market last spring and in 2016, clocked up sales of 6665 cars, up slightly from 5933 in 2015. Combined European and US sales for the XF model come to 22,689 cars.
Add in a few thousand from Canada and similar numbers from China and Australasia and you’re probably looking at global sales of roughly 30,000 units for a brand new model line. Adding XE sales to the mix and we get something in the region of 74,000 cars and nobody’s going to convince me that’s a figure JLR’s lords and masters are satisfied with.
As we know, both XE and XF are fine cars, well received by the press and lauded for their road behaviour and overall competence. Both however lack a certain indefinable sparkle and this deficiency is particularly apparent in both model’s dreary interiors – a matter we’ve covered previously. To JLR’s credit, new petrol and improved diesel four cylinder engines will soon be available and later in the year, an estate XF will be offered, which should enhance its appeal further. We can expect additional variants – in particular a macho V8 SVO model at some point as well, although a thorough reworking of the interior ambience and material quality would be a more useful development – also rumoured to be on the cards.
Journalist, Hilton Holloway, recently suggested in Autocar that JLR were considering the future of the Jaguar-branded saloon range on the back of disappointing sales. One option being to shrink the range to a single saloon line. Frankly, with numbers like these, and given the way industry winds are blowing, surely the most sensible option is to alter course entirely.
I’ve said this before as well, but it’s abundantly clear that not enough people want the saloon cars brand-Jaguar are offering. There is a strong argument to suggest a function of this is appearance-related, but there is a more fundamental issue as I see it. Latterly, Jaguar seems to have abandoned its previous USP of supreme NVH isolation (now Range Rover’s remit) for an aggression at odds with its warmer, cosier image; none of which would matter if this new course was yielding dividends. The sales figures however, present a different story.
With the auto market now hardening into entrenched positions, opportunities for challengers are shrinking fast. It’s becoming grindingly obvious that a change in direction is required before JLR’s Jaguar-branded offerings repeat themselves into the history books.
Sales data source: Car Sales Base/ Good Car Bad Car
23 thoughts on “Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before”
A case for the defence…
The Jaguar XF is a well-proportioned car, and quantifiably better than its predecessor. Its similarity in appearance to the XE is something of an issue, but it has helped to define a Jaguar ‘look’ which has, it seems, translated successfully to the SUV sector. The F Pace does little for me personally but it seems to have been well received by the kind of people who buy these things.
As for the much discussed weaknesses… the drivetrains are off the pace. The four cylinder engines just don’t seem that good, the big ones have character but are thirsty, and JLR is off the pace with hybrids. As for the cabins – well, ok, if ‘perceived quality’ and ‘material richness’ are now all important then an Audi or a Mercedes will do more for an owner’s ego. Personally speaking, ergonomics and comfort mean a lot more to me.
The XF is not perfect. But I like it a lot. It has a very sophisticated chassis and apparently drives well. If ‘sedans’ become extinct then I will miss them.
I will miss sedoons too, but in my opinion, the second-generation XF hardly makes a strong case on their behalf.
Yes, its proportions are more ‘correct’ than X250’s, but also less ‘interesting’. X250’s wheelbase definitely was too short, but that lent it a more agile stance, that, coupled with its crisper surfacing (could the aluminium body play a role with regards to this shortcoming of the new car?), made it more appealing, to my eyes at least. A facelifted estate X250 was quite an attractive car.
As far as the interiors are concerned, I don’t buy the argument that a pleasant cabin ambience is a superficial trait. For decades, Jaguar was as defined by its interiors’ flair as by its engineering and exterior styling. One doesn’t just simply throw away a core value of one’s brand. Jaguar used to care about its cabin ambience at a time when people at Auto didn’t even know how to spell ‘soft-touch’.
Let me equivocate: this car is not less exciting-looking than its peers. Consider the counterfactual, that it looked markedly different. Customers would use that against it. Damned both ways, really. This design is, on balance, a good compromise.
No doubt about it, sales of the new XF reflect a widely perceived disappointment amongst buyers. Unusually, the first generation XF enjoyed some of its best sales years towards the end of its lifespan, as people began to appreciate the lines of its well tailored yet understated exterior and nicely appointed interior. The new XF by comparison is a parsimonious device shorn of surprise and delight features. The exterior is a watered down reprise, blandly international in the mould of a latter day Lincoln, or a Thomas Ingenlath Volvo done badly. The pillowy surfaces are gone, as is the distinctive thin-thick-thin brightwork (oddly present on the XE), discarded for a three quarter window offering little illumination in every sense. The outside could be forgiven if the inside was a triumph, but it is not. Bereft of the mark 1’s wonderful materials and gimmicky but delightful visual handshake, the interior is a dark, austere, plasticky step backwards. Say what you like about Mercedes’ recent output (and many at DTW have), the interior of even the lowliest E-Class offers a far greater visual receipt than the XF does. Fielding that kind of product against that sort of competition, Jaguar cannot stand a chance.
Some evidence for my assertions. Below are the warmest interior configurations I could come up with on the base diesel versions of the XF and E-Class.
I am speculating here, but I do strongly suspect that Ian Callum’s position within JLR was weakened considerably in the wake of X351 XJ’s commercial failure. This was his statement car, one he fought hard for. It’s a car that elicits strong emotions in people, mostly I’m sad to say, in the negative. I believe the blame for this was probably laid at Callum’s door, culminating in a loss of influence and resulting in this torpid design theme for XF/XE being greenlighted over more striking proposals. The desires of the Chinese market were also a likely consideration.
I also suspect there is a good deal of handwringing at JLR’s Gaydon headquarters over the XE/XF’s lacklustre sales figures. This is looking increasingly like a spectacularly expensive own goal. The sad part about it is that it could well be the last opportunity to re-establish brand-Jaguar in the luxury saloon sector. That window is closing now and unless Dr. Speth is prepared to throw more resources into the fire, these two models appear to have plateaued a good way short of projections.
It’s interesting to contrast Volvo’s reinvention with JLR’s stuttering revival of Jaguar. The Swedes simply haven’t put a foot wrong, each new model appearing more assured than the last. Sales-wise they’re also crucifying JLR’s Jaguar-branded products and good luck to ’em. From where I’m sitting, they’re doing a much better job.
Frankly, if this is the best JLR can offer saloon buyers, I’m content to bit adieu to the idea of a three volume Jag. It’s not like we’d be missing much.
Maybe Jaguar’s beyond saving. The cars’ lack of success is not proportional to their demerits. Perhaps even if every Jaguar matched its best peer (and they do in a way) people would still find a reason not to buy them. Too Jaguar and not Jaguar enough, that’s it in a very small bowl.
The problem of Jaguar is being Jaguar, or so it seems.
I, for one, honestly don’t get all this dirt that’s being poured over the deplorable heads of Jag execs. These are very competent cars, after all, and might well be described as a return to form after the equally derided Ford years. Plush and old school got them only so far… (while I actually do like X-type & co.)
I agree that the interiors leave a lot to be desired, but Callum’s exterior design language is pleasingly sober amongst its peers and in today’s automotive landscape.
Engineering might not be brilliant in all cases (4cyl Ingenium), but it’s headed in a good direction, ticking the right boxes (weight savings, economy, ‘driving dynamics’, electrification: I-Pace).
The bottom line being: I am actually quite impressed with what Speth and his posse have done under Tata stewardship so far.
But then, I am probably too young (and too German?) to hold any fond memories of glorious Jaguar days of old.
Might this just be another case of unrequited love?
Thinking about that: Jaguar was burdened and blessed with a strong image. The odd thing is that the material differences between their cars and their peers are not huge yet they always translated into marked differences in sales. By that I mean an XJ, for example did pretty much what a 7 or S could do in practical terms: fast, comfy, costly. They had a legitimate but different view on ride comfort and decor. For many this kind of difference was magnified out of all proportion to its reak significance. The British press, it seems to me, had a habit of sneering at the trad style rather than saying “this is for customers to decide”, like a restaurant reviewer writing off an establishment because it serves lasagne and they hate lasagne.
While I have my reservations about the XJ it’s probably a very fine car. The stupid C-pillar is such an albatross as it serves to focus anxiety and criticism, to crystallise it around an ultimately unimportant detail. I don’t want to be a total relativist. Jaguar’s not perfect. However, its market success is not proportional to the cars’ demerits and it does things differently to its peers. Are we all supposed to buy an S-class?
I wonder to what extent there are positive feedback loop factors at work here. Sales drive sales, through positive word of mouth – especially for substantial purchases like a car. The global sales figures cited above are simply pathetic and don’t provide any opportunity for the brand to get consideration, mindshare, whatever you want to call it, among prospective purchasers. The following statement is not hyperbole – I myself am only aware there is a new XF due to that fact being noted on this site. I have never seen one advertised and I have never knowingly seen one on the road. What chance does the average management exec, who just wants a comfortable ride and a nice badge, stand?
I also would not underestimate the power of received wisdom. For many years there was a saying amongst those in the used car trade that you didn’t need to do the hard sell on Mercs, or BMWs – everyone knows ’em. Problem is, everyone knows Jags, too. I don’t know if those ideas still apply but it wouldn’t surprise me – firmly-entrenched notions like that take a long time to purge from the hive mind.
Skoda and Nissan have changed their images; Nissan was rusty Datsun. Audi went from being an over-priced middle-market car to a top player. Mercedes were supposedly “an old man’s car” and now they aren’t. Buick has shed its fuddy and duddy image in the US too. Jaguar and the Ruesselsheim people have precedents – is there something intrinsically amiss that is unique to them?
Skoda and Audi have successfully changed their images, yes. It took Audi about three decades worth of more-or-less open-chequebook investment to do so, and Skoda benefited from every single review for about a decade mentioning the ‘bargain VW’ connection in the first paragraph – sort of like the ‘rusty Lancia’ effect in reverse. To my mind, they are the exceptions that prove the rule – that you need either the equivalent of Everest in hundred-dollar bills, or a very particular set of circumstances coming together at an especially fortuitous moment. Jaguar has neither of those things. Especially money.
In any case, I don’t really agree that the others on your list have had their images shifted in any significant way. Even going back to the Datsun era, Nissan has broadly been regarded by the general public as a purveyor of cheap, tedious, reliable sheds throughout my entire lifetime, and it still is. The Sunny (with its associated running-joke status in the brilliant BBC series People Like Us) was the definitive Nissan image-maker for my generation, and the brand retains exactly the same sort of buyer profile and perception nowadays.
I am particularly surprised you say that Merc has changed its image. Generally speaking, I don’t particularly care for most cars that wear the three-pointed star, but apart from maybe a certain prancing horse or a half-naked woman, that logo conjures up the most unambiguous set of associations in motoring – quality, luxury, prestige (and never mind that the truth is bound, gagged and buried under a Stuttgart NCP). And rest assured that at least over here, Buick’s image is as far from transformed as it is possible to be. Its marketing department might think they are making significant inroads. I can tell you first-hand they are not. Buick’s image is shocking and hasn’t moved on at all since its nadir in the mid-1990s. Despite (read on account of) the abominable efforts of its marketing ‘experts’, no-one below pensioner age thinks they are a cool ride. More to the point, this is almost certainly an image that will never change, due to the fact that it is kept alive entirely by China, and is completely redundant and pointless in the US context (and prioritised accordingly by GM).
Jaguar is a furrow DTW has ploughed many times, and yet here we are again, spreading further muck.
I strongly suspect that Eoin is correct in surmising that Callum has blown his political stock over X351. Few are queuing up to buy a Jaguar these days, so every car has to be a standout product, handsome inside and out. But instead of the suave XF-Max we expected, Callum courted controversy with a design so poor, it hastened Jaguar’s exit from a sector it used to define. Judging by the ultra-conservative XE and XF, Jaguar has found itself on a much shorter leash since.
The message was: no more old man’s cars. The XJ ticked off the client base and didn’t gain a new one. That the car was the size of Kent didn’t help.
X350 suffered from the same problem of being “a bit big”, which is no surprise considering the two cars shared underpinnings. X350 did a better job of disguising its rotundity, which is faint praise as it still looked a porker.
I actually still like the look of X351, particularly from the rear. But it’s a big car with poor visibility that doesn’t make best use of its footprint by providing space and a capacious exit for its potential owners. Were I in the market for a big, fast, comfortable, cheap secondhand car to hoon around in outside London it would be near the top of my list. But I’m not. Were I to look for a car to be chauffeured around in, unless I was Teresa May and thought it gave out the correct Backing Britain image, I’d not really consider it. Not that I’m in the market for that either.
Sean: you may be the first person to utter that comment in the entire history of the X351. I wanted to like the back end, I really did. I can just about tolerate the sub-Kia waterfall lights, as convoluted as the surrounding panel fits are. But those blacked out C-pillars are the stuff of nightmares. What was Callum thinking?
Hmmm. When I wrote that I hoped you wouldn’t rejoin with the C Pillars. That’s really cheap of you, Chris. But apart from them, I like the back for its lack of embellishment, particularly chrome – I’m an old guy so can’t join young Richard in his jackdaw like admiration of the shiny stuff.
Overall, I’m also a quiet fan of the X351. Sure, there are aspects of some details which are awkward – I think Callum’s team are having problems knowing how to deal with the front fascia, especially the shape and size of the grille and headlamps and the relative proportions of each to the other (BTW, Audi are now having similar issues) – but I like the brave, broad brush strokes, including the rear lights. I agree that the gamble of all this courage has failed and probably queered the pitch for further future daring designs … although the I-Pace gives me hope.
My industry spies tell me that Jaguar is expending huge resources on the I-Pace. One wonders if they regard it as a last pitch for relevancy in a world where it has none?
The main problem with the XE and XF range is the 2.0 litre engine is clattery and the interiors simply horrid. There is nothing likeable about these cars aside from the fact that they handle quite well. It’s no surprise to me that they are failing.
It would help me if I could see one in the metal. There isn’t a dealer nearby and there are none on the streets in my district. Jutlanders are not into Jaguar, it’s more a Copenhagen car. Are the interiors on or below the good standards of Ford, Opel and Mazda? I’ve seen these and think them all pretty decent.
Design wise, I would say that the current crop of Jaguar interiors I have seen (XE, XF, F-Type) are a step above the mainstream manufacturers. There is a rationality to their dashboards that puts them above the likes of Ford or Opel. In fact, their design reminds me a lot of early 1990s Rovers before they ditched their industrial design aesthetic. What the interiors are not however is luxurious. The materials are disappointing, with poor plastics in clear line of sight and a cheap tactility to the minor controls. They are perhaps on a par with the current BMW 3 Series here, although that doesn’t say much. Jaguar also need to terminate their recent obsession with aluminium effect plastic, which started with the XK and now infects the entire line up.