The Death of Romance

A (modest) commercial success, but ultimately a creative failure, the 2007 XF opened Jaguar up to a non-traditional audience, but in the final analysis, probably cast too many values on the fire.

Image: Car and Driver

By 2005, Ford’s ambitious growth strategy for Jaguar lay in tatters following a series of misguided creative decisions based on a discredited retro aesthetic. As Ford’s Premier Automotive Group began its slow dissolve, the storied luxury car maker’s consistent inability to turn a profit became intolerable to the cost accountants at Dearborn, while simultaneously, the realisation that senior management’s stewardship of the marque was also partly to blame began to dawn. Something clearly needed to be done.

Two things occurred. Firstly, Ford quietly erected a for sale sign outside Browns Lane (while officially denying all such notions) and secondly, they released the creative thumbscrews. However, following a decade and a half of direct rule, Jaguar management had become paralysed – hostages to a past they both revered and now feared – incapable of taking a much-needed creative leap. Having assumed leadership of Jaguar’s styling function in 1999, Ian Callum had been agitating for a stylistic revolution for almost half a decade. Now with the slow-selling and discredited S-Type in need of replacement, Callum seized his chance to permanently change the conversation.

A rejected X250 styling study. Image: carscoops via Autocar

A major barrier lay with the difficulty of bridging a four decade long stylistic block, one which amounted as much to forensics as creativity. This would involve the production of up to thirty different full size styling models, largely intended to eliminate the cosy and the familiar. Starting with designs which referenced the well-regarded 2001 R-Coupe concept, Callum’s senior design team of Julian Thomson, Wayne Burgess and Alister Whealan began moving towards a more decisive formal departure.

The fundamentals of X250’s styling lay with a coupe-esque roofline, featuring steeply raked front and rear screens, with the waistline rising to meet the roof. The nose would be dominated by a new ovoid countersunk grille, which would echo that of the original 1968 XJ6. Lines and surfaces would be kept relatively unadorned, but would be in what would soon become time-honoured Callum parlance, “incredibly disciplined”. Classic Jaguar proportions of short nose and elongated rear were retained, but in a more contemporary, more technical, more muscular manner.

Image: strongauto

But as the definitive X250 style took shape, team-Callum discovered the most strident resistance to this design shift came from within Jaguar itself, with few in senior management in favour of the new style; Callum subsequently stating that he struggled to explain the car to his bosses and that this impasse would be “the brink of my career”. With few internal allies, getting X250 sanctioned would prove daunting. Interestingly, there was less resistance from Detroit, where Ford’s J Mays became a powerful ally. Still, with Jaguar so heavily indebted, Henry’s beancounters were justifiably reluctant to stump up for a new car.

Originally intended to have a new aluminium bodyshell, Callum told chroniclers; “It was a huge investment and Jim Padilla came over to say no to the money.” Callum and Senior Project Engineer, Mick Mohan pushed for a compromise X250 on a heavily modified DEW98 S-Type platform instead, but even Mohan’s engineering colleagues proved sceptical. Callum assured them once the car was on the roads for three years, they’d recognise it as a Jaguar, but it proved touch and go. “It was the biggest hurdle of my life, getting that car through”, Callum stated.

Image: serious-wheels

The break with tradition would continue inside with Jaguar’s traditional interior ambience replaced with a more contemporary aesthetic. Cool blue instrument backlighting married with large swathes of brushed aluminium, and while wood was still used liberally – (in fact in greater quantities than before), it was treated very differently. It was a refreshing break from the expected, but as with the exterior style, there was little here for traditionalists.

A further novelty was the ‘handshake’ – a feature driven by Project Engineer, Mick Mohan, encompassing the rotary gear selector which automatically rose from the centre console, while dash-mounted air vents rotated to the open position as the ignition was engaged. It was a nice piece of theatre and one which lent the interior a touch of delight.

The car’s critical reception was modestly upbeat, the balance of opinion being that Jaguar had successfully reinvented its mid-liner. However, had team-Callum not shown the C-XF concept the previous January, it’s likely the production model’s reception would have been more impactful. Allegedly designed after X250 was signed off, C-XF looked more akin to what Callum wanted to produce, but clearly wasn’t allowed to; the most obvious difference being the production car’s headlamp treatment, which gave XF a slightly startled appearance.

Another departure occurred dynamically and would be one which would have perhaps the most far-ranging repercussions for the marque. Using suspension design from the S-Type (front) and X150 XK (rear), the XF’s combination of quick-ratio (if entirely artificial) steering, firm damping and stout anti-roll bars lent the driving experience a decidedly Germanic dimension. Gone were any vestiges of Jaguar’s supremacy in suspension isolation and NVH suppression – largely it seems at the altar of marketing. Retrospectively, it was a huge error.

The car’s launch coincided with Jaguar’s sale becoming official and the following year, the business (along with Land Rover) was sold to Tata, (the same year the Browns Lane facility was torn down) lending the Indian multinational credit for a model which was bankrolled and supported by Ford; a matter which isn’t adequately acknowledged in the latterday rush to laud the ‘JLR miracle.’

Image: supercars

Once on sale, in Callum’s words, XF sales ‘never faltered’. In fact, they would probably have been stronger still in the early years had the attractive Sportbrake estate and a wider range of engine choices been made available from launch, but especially following the successful 2011 facelift, the model established itself as Jaguar’s mainstay, with total sales of the X250-series of over 200,000.

The XF was conceived as an evolution of the ‘Lyons Line’, a gestational step towards a new Jaguar visual identity and clearly one which team-Callum intended to develop further. But owing as much perhaps to corporate cowardice as much as the relative success of the model line, it instead became Jaguar’s styling touchstone – in saloon terms at least.

X250 was intended to be the first 21st Century Jaguar – a thoroughly modern reimaging of a classic template. While proving a modest critical and sales success, it however changed Jaguar beyond recognition, failing to take the marque’s more traditional-minded customers along with it. By ditching the more romantic aspects of the Jaguar ‘experience’, JLR were left with very little to differentiate from their German rivals; a matter they have only compounded since. Because if anything, Jaguar’s current lords and masters have been even more risk-averse than their Ford-ruled forebears.

Image: betterparts

If one characteristic characterises Sir William Lyons at Jaguar, it was his embrace of risk. He accepted that the only way to survive against far better funded opposition was to take product chances his rivals wouldn’t countenance. It was a strategy which largely succeeded, but in his wake, it was one which was beaten out of successive Jaguar management either through attrition, privation or simply a lack of nerve.

So while the XF was a bold step in 2007, it was perhaps in retrospect too big a leap, while ironically its more recent replacement suffers from quite the opposite problem, shedding sales now in a truly alarming fashion. But as the brand-Jaguar looks set to embrace an electrified future, perhaps there is one final opportunity for the ‘big cat’ to regain its audacity.

Sources: Autocar / Jaguar World

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Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

7 thoughts on “The Death of Romance”

    1. I was rather partial to it as well Mark, and still see plenty to commend it. I see some XJ in its surfacing, the more upright grille suited the car better and in retrospect, it may have been a more fruitful (if less dramatic) thematic path than the one ultimately adopted. The X250 can look rather dumpy from certain angles, particularly around the rear three quarters. And while team-Callum righted the front end styling with the 2011 facelift, they fluffed it at the rear. Having said that, X250 in any form offers a good deal more visual satisfaction (inside and out) than its lacklustre X260 replacement.

  1. The remaining players in the industry, I work as a designer for one of them, are condemned to innovate themselves to death.
    Why condemned? Real world product content has been taken for granted to the point that any margin for profit has been eroded to the point of ridicule. Jaguar was once at the forefront of maximum class for minimum brass. Now any car on sale must conform to myriad regulations in order to be merely competitive.
    It is still legal to build a sub five Euro NCAP star car, but it is difficult to convince people of the merit of such a vehicle. The laws of physics still trump airbags when decelerating from 60mph to standstill in the length of the car in question..
    Now that automotive beauty is a relative term, innovation is sought to obtain salvation in the marketplace. The future is electric.
    Apparently.
    As a short term, low sales volume salve to our collective conscience perhaps, but the reality is possibly that the car has almost reached the end of the road.
    Just to be perfectly clear, I LOVE cars. They represent to me the last true freedom, to move freely and rapidly as we choose. These rights are constantly challenged, and to an extent rightly so.
    We are thus condemned to innovate for a while longer, haemorraging cash to the grave because there is no alternative.
    Public transport? Tried it lately? Possibly the most expensive way to be uncomfortable.
    The dilemma facing Jaguar is shared throughout the industry. Jaguar can demand a premium for their product as a “Specialist” manufacturer. Non-specialist manufacturers will thus suffer more as we as consumers are no longer able to comprehend value.
    The dilemma will be compounded when too many of us go electric and power cuts make a comeback. Then where do we go?

    1. Thanks for your comment Rob. While I remain to be fully convinced by the current (no pun intended) arguments in favour of electric propulsion or indeed whether Jaguar’s future should exclusively lie in this direction, it does appear that just as no manufacturer can now contemplate a future without some form of SU / CUV in their product plan, nobody can ignore the direction of travel towards EVs and expect to remain in business. This is of course an industry-wide dilemma, but for Jaguar, having either themselves made or had made for them a whole series of poor product decisions, they may only have this one opportunity to reinvent themselves once more.

      But as you point out, it may not matter in another ten-fifteen years if indeed the mainstream industry either through fear or the mad rush to be perceived as the innovator, hasten their own demise. Perhaps Driven to Write will exist purely as a historical site by then. If we exist at all…

    2. As a contributor here I hope my car-appreciation bona fides are accepted. I think one’s estimation of public transport depends on which regime you live under. It seems to me that more market-liberal societies dislike PT, underfund it and ensure it’s poor thus proving their presumption. Ireland, the US and the UK are examples. I live now in northern Europe where PT works very well and private transport is less a necessity and more like just one option among many.
      Regarding content, the manufacturer who can market less features plus better quality (durability, driving pleasure) might have some relative competitive success. I’ve been in a max. features range topper and it’s not much better than a simple, well-made car with driving appeal.

  2. You’ve opened up Pandora’s box, Eoin.

    First of all, I must stress that I wholeheartedly supported Callum’s rejuvenation effort, back in the day. And no matter how disheartened one may be with the current state of affairs at Gaydon, one needs to cast his/her mind back to the autumn years of Jaguar under Ford, when S- and X-types had turned the brand into a joke. Today, it may not be the passionately purring cat we all long for, but even a Jaguar that’s been Germanised almost beyond recognition doesn’t constitute the same kind laughing stock.

    Whether one chooses to consider X250 a success or not depends on one’s point of view. If this was supposed to serve as styling benchmark for more than a decade, it must be seen as being utterly out of its depth. Yet I preferred to view it as a first, measured step towards modernity, with more daring, idiosyncratic steps/cars following in its wake. The X351 XJ certainly suggested this was the original intention, but that car’s failure probably marked the end of such a plan.

    As a mere stepping stone, X250 served its purpose, yet its stylistic importance was ridiculously overstated and inflated through XE and the second-generation XF. These cars made XF Mk1 appear like the kind of styling paragon it never was and simultaneously stifled Jaguar in a way not too dissimilar to Ford’s retro efforts, only this time around, the intention wasn’t to create Jag-Wars for Mitch Snyder from Milwaukee, but Yuh-goo-ers for Matthias Riemensberger from Darmstadt.

    In a nutshell: X250 doesn’t deserve to be blamed for subsequent bad decision making. Current management does, and hopefully rewards my hope that they quickly learn from their mistakes by putting i-Pace into production without a single body pressing changed. And a decent interior. Please.

    1. Kris: This wasn’t intended to be a hatchet-job on the XF, more of a revisionist assessment from someone who like you, viewed it in overwhelming positive terms a decade ago. However, both from a stylistic perspective – after all, if one is going to use a design as template for successive generations, it had better be as good as Lyons’ XJ and say what one will, X250 is not, and from the perspective of regular acquaintance on a day-to-day basis, the XF just falls maddeningly short. The example I regularly drive is a deeply frustrating car, largely because it’s so nearly a very good one indeed.

      However, while as you state – X250 doesn’t deserve to be blamed for subsequent bad decision making, I would reply that XF itself was (arguably) one of those ill-thought through decisions. Ultimately though, the sea-change XF represented arrived too late for Jaguar. Too much damage had been done by 2007. Fast forward a further decade and the kitties are truly coming home to (errr…) roost.

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