To Boldly Go…

As JLR moves further into the white space of seemingly infinite possibility, we ask a few awkward questions.

You could put a car in there. Some white space, yesterday. Image: Freedom of Creation

This week, Autocar exclusively reported the prospect that JLR is advanced on developing a more road-biased, Range-Rover-derived vehicle, said by the journal to be dubbed Road-Rover. According to journalist, Hilton Holloway, the forthcoming model, set to debut in about three years time, will be the first of a range of cars aimed at the top end of the luxury market. But one aspect missing from Autocar’s piece is any meaningful analysis of the possible implications for JLR’s existing brands.

In a recent interview, Land Rover Chief Creative Officer, Gerry McGovern hinted at what he described as ‘white space’ within JLR’s overtly off-road offerings; the sort of thinking it’s said which led to the development of both RR Evoque and Velar models. He also laid hints that not only would they seek to move into the space being opened up by Bentley and Rolls Royce in the more rarified outposts of the SUV tundra, but also that his design team have been looking at more road-focused offerings.

An Autocar rendering of the putative ‘Road-Rover’ vehicle. Image: Autocar

There is some logic in this, insofar as the Range-Rover brand has huge recognition worldwide and commands a significant price premium over its sibling JLR marques. Therefore, to gain entry and to be spoken of in similar terms to the automotive ‘elite’, Gaydon is probably astute to leverage its most valuable nameplate. Additionally, Range-Rover needs to diversify away from pure-SUV offerings as it will become increasingly challenging to ford the regulatory strictures heading its way as the industry shifts towards electrification and outright autonomy.

It does however, raise a number of questions. Creating a new brand in ‘Road-Rover’ is a risky gambit if indeed this is their plan. A more pragmatic approach – and one I suspect will be adopted – would be to sit the model overtly within the Range-Rover umbrella. Another unknown is how the market will respond to a Range-Rover model that is patently not an SUV. Not that these are in any way insurmountable, but will require a deft touch nonetheless.

However, one issue that could necessitate considerably more delicate handling is that of JLR’s current road-focused nameplate. Whither Jaguar? Holloway’s report suggests that the forthcoming ‘Road-Rover’ will be twinned with the next generation XJ saloon, both of which will utilise an electrified drivetrain.

On paper at least, this dovetails with JLR’s current strategy of platform sharing, allowing the costs of development to be amortised over larger production numbers and differing offerings. Certainly, the business case for a stand-alone XJ model would be at best, tenuous.

However, it raises some disquieting questions over Jaguar’s longer-term future within the JLR group. Ralph Speth’s aim is to push the car maker’s volumes closer to a million vehicles per annum, giving them sufficient scale to weather what is looking like a very tempestuous short-term future, and protect them from likely predators.

It was initially believed that he would look to acquire a volume brand for this purpose, but the recent announcement that Tata have put aside $6.1 bn for the potential purchase of an additional luxury brand or technology partner suggests a somewhat different strategy.

The unavoidable likelihood appears to be that Jaguar will be pushed further downmarket, becoming their de-facto volume brand – (if indeed such a term could apply to the Jaguar name with anything akin to a straight face). With vehicles such as their latest (and overwhelmingly ordinary) compact CUV entering the market, this is a trend that can only gain (ahem…) pace. Especially as brand-Jaguar has failed to make a serious dent in the luxury saloon market with its current offerings.

For JLR to prosper in the medium to long-term it is being reshaped and refocused in ways previously unimaginable. We may not like what its once-immutable brands ultimately morph into, but that’s of little consequence now. It’s happening.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “To Boldly Go…”

  1. The sad truth is that JLR probably could rebody the XF estate in Range Rover stylings and sell it at a 10-15% premium. This is pretty much what the Autocar rendering looks like.

    Jaguar’s future will probably depend on the i-Pace electric car. It will have to be good. As has been pointed out by many others, it will not have the market to itself, and JLR’s powertrains have been a weak point. They have to get it right.

    Beyond this, the E-Pace will add volume but how much longer can they keep recycling that old Ford platform. Do they bite the bullet and develop a new mixed-materials platform for their smaller cars?

    And finally – I continue to lament their wilful abandonment of the working vehicle market. The new Defender sounds like it will be a RRS clothed in a more butch design. This is a great shame.

    VW has shown that people will pay a premium for a pick up with more sophistication and luxury. A new ladder-framed Defender, with serious off-road capability, would surely have been a sales success, and capable of providing farmers with a replacement for their faithful old Defender as well as catering for those with more aspirant tastes.

  2. I do put a but of faith into the i-Pace. It’s an extremely attractive design that’s fresh, but not alienatingly so.

    Elecrification bestows underperforming brands with the chance to reestablish themselves as pioneers. I sincerely hope Jaguar take full advantage of this opportunity.

    Unlike certain VAG brands, JLR have so far managed to keep the styling side of things strictly separated – nobody would mistake an F-pace for a Velar or vice versa. So from this perspective, I don’t see why a Road Rover in the Panamera Shooting Brake vein would cannibalise sales of an XJ that’s taking aim at Tesla’s Model S.

    Of course, Eoin’s logic is hard to dispute. But going downmarket hasn’t done Jaguar any favours under Ford – lest we forget, Browns Lane was on a bit of a roll after X300 and X100 had been brought to market. Things started to go seriously belly-up when X308 turned out to be so obviously just another facelift, not to mention when X200 was unleashed.

    Jaguar’s brand value is still enormous. It’d be downright daft not to exploit this and go for corresponding profit margins. Volume in itself isn’t a recipe for success. Maybe Sir Ralph could have a word with Jac Nasser and Bill Ford about that.

    1. How about this: Range Rover’s Road Rover vehicles can be estate cars to Jaguar’s saloons?
      That way the configuration stay separated inside marque boundaries. The F-Pace is the toad in the soup, though.
      What would you suggest Jaguar can do that it doesn’t do now? Apart from hire me to show Jaguar’s designers how to make quality visible, of course.

    2. Well, they’d obviously need to step up their game, as far as perceived quality is concerned. There’s a certain Mr Herriott working in Denmark, who’s a specialist in the field. JLR should hire him.

      Apart from that, Jaguar’s styling should betray a higher degree of conviction. Going back to Sir William’s teachings about proportions would automatically set them apart from the competition. I imagine the next XJ akin to a BMW 6 GranCoupé with a longer boot, which is a packaging that can be achieved in terms of passive/active safety legislation requirements. Jaguars would truly stand out that way.

      JLR got their fingers burned with the idiosyncratic X351, but the overbearing conservatism of the current saloon range isn’t giving the Germans sleepless nights either.

      So my advice would actually consist of a single word: sleekness.

  3. Like it or not, Mercedes are now eating Jaguar’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their current range combines romantic styling and warm interiors with decent ride and handling; all previously Jaguar tropes. In the meantime, Gerry McGovern clearly feels like he has unfinished business from his time working with Roy Axe at Rover. Indeed, in applying Range Rover themes to a car, he is reversing the process that saw Rover 800 and 200 themes applied to their off road brethren.

    1. I could put it differently: Jaguar´s natural customers are not being served but worse there are fewer and fewer people who even consider themselves Jaguar customers who reluctantly shop elsewhere. Jaguar were relentlessly criticised for their image of “old man´s cars” but while one lot of old men die another lot come along. Like Radio 4, Jaguar is something some people grow into and there are others who probably always wanted one and grab the chance if they can. Road Rovers seem to be a way to extend the Rover brand because it can do this – a lot of effort has been spent recovering Jaguar´s customer base and it seems not to be paying off. Probably the best bet is to reduce Jaguar to two models: a super smooth saloon and a roadster. Why does ever maker have to have a full range of models? Economies of scale is the received wisdom. Jaguar can probably exist comfortably under the LR umbrella as nicely engineered saloon partners of the Road Rover “estate cars”

  4. Jaguar are fighting for relevancy in a saloon car market that, by dint of the number of offerings by rival manufacturers, and the domination of the sector by a handful of marques, offers no crumb of relevancy at all. Try going to the Car and Driver website and clicking on “saloons”; the number of cars that appear is simply bewildering. It is difficult to offer meaningful, nuanced differentiation when the alternatives amount to an overwhelming tsunami of information.

  5. Autocar is now reporting this new ‘Road Rover’ as a confirmed project for 2019, all-electric and twinned with the next XJ.

    Presumably both will be based on a development of the I-Pace platform. How successfully that snub-nosed, relatively tall concept translates to a new XJ remains to be seen. The ‘Road Rover’ will presumably be a lengthened version of the I-Pace in a Velar dress, which doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

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