The lessons of history are fated to be repeated – endlessly.
It was all going to plan. In 2002, production of the X308-series XJ ceased at Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant, after all, an all-new replacement was shortly to come on stream to replace it. However, with the decision taken and implemented, a crisis arose. Jaguar engineers hit significant hurdles in the pressing of the X350 XJ’s aluminium bodyshell, necessitating a significant delay in series production.
As it transpired, it would be another year before the XJ was launched and in the interregnum, Jaguar was absent, not only from its core market, but also its most lucrative. When the 2003 XJ did reach buyers, not only did the car itself meet with a less than rapturous reception, but a significant number of former Jaguar customers had taken their business elsewhere. Many failed to return.
It would not therefore be unreasonable to expect that Jaguar’s lords and masters learned a salutary and bitter lesson from the troubled X308 to X350 changeover during that post-millennial period, and would never place themselves in such an invidious position again.
History repeats at Jaguar, far more than it ought. In May this year, JLR announced the cessation of current-era XJ production with the final X351 model due to come down the Castle Bromwich tracks in about three weeks time. On sale for almost a decade and with sales on a relentlessly downward trajectory, the carmaker has elected not to prolong matters further. After all, a replacement is reported to be in hand.
Jaguar has been readying a new-generation XJ for some time now. This vehicle, which has an internal programme number and is believed to have been creatively signed-off has for going on two years now been reported as imminent. The latest dispatch from Autocar, that bastion of laser-accurate and hyperbole-free reporting is that it should be revealed in 2020. But surely any car this close to launch would be well into on-road proving by now, yet no reports of such activity have emerged, nor have prototypes been spotted.
The first thing worth stating here is that with matters as they currently appear, that 2020 launch date looks highly problematic. The second is the distinct possibility that the car may not see the light of day at all. Which is not to say that enthusiasm for such a model has waned, but simply that given the current reportedly febrile state of JLR finances and the wider commercial environment, the XJ programme would appear to be a luxury (vehicle) the West Midlands carmaker may not be able to afford.
But even in the best-case scenario, that of XJ being delayed, this is foolishness on toast. Because it can hardly have escaped Dr. Speth and his senior JLR management that by vacating the XJ’s market in this manner, they are in effect, ceding it. Of course an argument can be made that should it arrive to market in a couple of year’s time, being an electric model, it will not be bound by traditional rules or rivals. However, this doesn’t alter the immutable fact that one doesn’t simply abandon a marketplace without there being a cost exacted.
Life is far from easy at Gaydon at the moment, and even if the cacophony around a putative tie-up with PSA has for the moment died down, one could perhaps understand the desire to manage both expectation and disappointment.
As Jaguar’s defining and longest-lived model, there is a lot of emotional investment tied up within the nameplate, even if not everyone was a fan of the outgoing version’s appearance. The XJ nameplate is clearly too valuable for JLR to abandon entirely, but frankly the car has grown beyond all recognition and usability – especially over the past two generations.
Perhaps a recalibration of the XJ’s mission would be a fruitful endeavour, especially as Jaguar’s existing saloons appear to be floating face-down. Prior to his recent announcement to retire, Ian Callum had suggested that the next XJ should be more compact – more akin to that of the original car. That would make it roughly XF sized – no bad thing by this author’s reckoning.
Given the current situation, not to mention the sheer volume of disquieting news emanating from the Bishops Itchington triangle, it’s rather difficult to discern what exactly is signal and what is simply noise.
It may be that the foregoing merely amounts to the inverse of Autocar’s hyperbolic speculations, but nevertheless, given the ambient music, this particular automotive Cassandra would be unsurprised to learn that the XJ’s fate is already sealed – at least in the manner we currently recognise it.