Getting to grips with brand-Jaguar’s new hatchback by not talking about it. The real story is beneath the skin anyway…
One thing we cannot quibble with is JLR’s ability to get the most out of their platforms. The current LR-MS (or whatever they’re calling it now) platform underpinning the new E-Pace is a prime example – maybe even a unique one given its convoluted ancestry – a matter possibly deserving its own episode of “Who Do You Think You Are.” Shared with the current Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport, it is in effect a heavily re-engineered variant of the Ford-EUCD platform, one which continues to do duty underneath the current (if soon to be defunct) Volvo S/V60 range.
EUCD incidentally also formed the basis for the Disco Sport’s predecessor, the L359 Freelander, which itself can trace its DNA back as far as the Ford engineered CD132 platform which gave Henry’s Mondeo some backbone, not to mention of course, Jaguar’s ‘much loved’ X-Type. So while it might be a good deal more than six degrees of separation to mention the ‘X-word’ in relation to E-Pace, it isn’t as facetious as it might initially appear.
Whether it’s seen as a pejorative however is another matter. That I suppose depends on which side of the fence you position yourself. One could go on at length about how generic and downright ordinary E-Pace looks, but what’s the point? No, what’s interesting here is the realisation that JLR has achieved what Ford might once have considered but never dared carry out. They have brazenly introduced a Jaguar-badged five door hatchback on a front wheel drive platform. Not only that, but neither the massed ranks of motoring journalists nor the buying public will bat a single mascaraed eyelash between them over such a move. And that kids, right there is the magic of crossovers.
Of course all of this makes excellent commercial sense. JLR need the volume and moreover, they need brand-Jaguar to finally start paying its way. The plan was for XE/XF to have catapulted sales, if not into German big three stratospheres, to at least have outgunned those of Volvo. However with things as they are now, the game plan has hit a few pieces of inconvenient street furniture, so while group-JLR achieved group sales of 583,312 vehicles last year and look set to achieve something in the region of 650,000 once 2017 runs its course, it’s clear that projections for this new model brook no sloughing off behind the bike sheds for a cheeky fag, like its saloon-twin stablemates.
But it is at Gothenburg rather than Ingolstadt, the Petuelring or indeed, Sindelfingen that the denizens of Gaydon are casting increasingly concerned glances. Both combined businesses are of broadly similar size, producing similar volumes aimed at more or less the same customer base. Volvo’s reach in compact cars (and estates) is deeper, while JLR punches harder in SUV/CUV’s. Both companies are competently managed by motor industry veterans with hands-off ownership from afar. Both are impelled by an urgent need to grow in order to weather the changes coming thick and fast as the motor business enters the most climactic phase since its inception.
Becoming a 1-million cars a year business is the aim and stated place of safety, but while both companies remain some way adrift, it is Volvo who is not only showing the fastest growth, but appear to be reading the runes more adeptly. Their recent announcement over future propulsion for instance was a master-class in media manipulation. It makes little difference that the world’s media misread Volvo’s intentions and reported something else entirely, it put them on Global front pages as progressives, driving the agenda. In PR terms: priceless. Cost to Volvo: negligible.
In a sense Volvo have no choice but to take the course they espouse, they have invested heavily in diesel and have been caught on the wrong foot. They don’t have the resources of the really big players, so they must now try to box clever. JLR are in a similar position, yet their recent utterances around diesel (while pragmatic) sound hollow and worse still, in PR terms, sound like yesterday’s news. There is little doubt they will be forced to take a similar tack as the Swedes – the difference being, the flag in the sand is Swedish. Despite being in a position to steal a march on their rivals by introducing a production-ready pure-electric car in the autumn, JLR now appear like followers rather than leaders.
Another aspect to the issue of scale is that of platforms. Because all of Volvo’s vehicles are front wheel drive, they can be spun off the same modular, scalable ‘architecture’. For JLR, it’s not so simple. A pressing priority for them going forward is to replace LR-MS with something more modern, lightweight and modular. But to amortise that investment, they need scale. Lots of it.
This imperative has also led to some of the more fanciful outliers of the motoring press to deduce scenarios where JLR buys the Vauxhall business from PSA as an entrée into the mass-market – a prospect that would be palpable nonsense even if Britain wasn’t hell bent on leaving the EU. If JLR wanted to burn cash, they have no shortage of deceased brands in their kitty just waiting to be expensively and futilely reanimated, and one thing Ralph Speth isn’t is a fool.
If JLR is to find the volume they need, they are likely to do so with what they’ve got. At last night’s E-Pace launch, Ian Callum didn’t rule out a smaller Jaguar branded model, saying it’s a possibility, albeit one not in the current product plan. Yet. Some have suggested a Smaller Range Rover to sit below the Evoque. That’s unlikely however, Range Rover being too valuable a brand to risk. Not so Jaguar. Not any more. No, all further trips downmarket are likely to be on the back of the leaping cat.