Well son, there’s good news and bad news…
It has been a busy week at Gaydon, with Jaguar Land Rover’s PR machine being cranked into renewed operation following a brief hiatus. The news this week is what one might best describe as mixed. But since most news items these days are of the most demoralising variety, let us first direct our attention to the positives.
Having last month announced a thorough, much needed and broadly well-received refresh to the F-Pace, JLR’s troubled Jaguar satellite followed up this week by revealing a similar bout of changes to the underperforming XF midline saloon range. Sharing its much-improved cabin design with the leaping cat’s crossover offering, the revised XF finally receives the luxury car interior denied it at launch.
The XF’s exterior has also been freshened, albeit in the most subtle manner, with revisions to grille design, head and tail lamp graphics. New style wheel designs and revised bumpers complete the visual alterations, lending the car a more polished mien. In a further move, one more redolent of the ‘Egan era’, several thousand quid has also been lopped off the base price.
There have also been revisions to model offerings, with the familiar array of four-cylinder Ingenium petrol, diesel and mild-hybrid derivatives, although unlike the F-Pace, no six cylinder versions. The changes, which are also incorporated in the shapely Sportbrake estate (now Europe-only), sees model derivations pared back from 64 to 28 possible permutations.
So far so good perhaps, but in a similar manner to that of an over-stretched front-line medic delivering bad news, the JLR press department announced first that the compact XE would receive further revisions to drivetrains, technology and specifications, along with an even more generous price cut, but in the under-reported small print*, added that Jaguar’s smallest saloon is to be withdrawn completely from the North American market for the 2021 model year – the carmaker rather predictably citing poor sales and the ongoing rise of the crossover CUV.
While neither saloon has come anywhere close to sales expectations since their respective announcements, JLR’s American dealers have concluded that the XE in particular is no longer worth the trouble, or cost. There is, as you might expect, a numbing consistency to this announcement – cleaving faithfully to the History Repeating© Charter. After all, the late and much-loved X-Type began its death march in broadly similar fashion.
In spite of a fairly comprehensive (if less creatively successful) facelift last summer, the XE has remained a steadfast occupant of the lower regions of the sales charts, whether here in Europe or across the ocean in the North Americas. Introduced into the US market in 2016, the XE’s most successful year in the home of the brave was 2017, when 9278 were delivered. Last year, a paltry 3551 found homes, while so far this year, the numbers are, well let’s just call them derisory and leave it at that.
Despite being in receipt of warm accolades from the UK press, the XE hit the ground limping in 2015. Hobbled by a list of demerits longer than its excellent road manners could make up for, the compact Jaguar saloon played a perennial fourth or fifth fiddle to the sector-defining Germans. Five years on, the game looks like being up.
Because without a US presence, the XE’s business case looks gossamer thin. Selling primarily now in its home market (in similarly modest numbers) and in China (LWB only, one imagines), what case for its continued existence has to not only be highly conditional, but likely to be short-lived.
JLR is reportedly in the process of re-evaluating the direction for the Jaguar brand and this week’s announcement seems to offer a broad hint as to the likely direction of travel. The word from Gaydon is that there is neither the funds, the enthusiasm, nor the business case to replace both XE and XF models, with the idea being floated of creating a single, electrified saloon to sit below next year’s, now further delayed electric XJ flagship.
Matters were not looking great beforehand, but in the new, C-19-ravaged landscape the entire industry now finds itself, the entire Jaguar offering as currently constituted appears unsustainable. Finding a fresh direction for the brand is going to be one of the tougher issues facing the JLR board as it navigates the coming five years and beyond – particularly given the previous incumbent’s failed growth strategy for the nameplate.
Whether one can be contrived in any meaningful form remains a question which perhaps only newly appointed CEO, Thierry Bolloré can answer. Aficionados of the once great marque must fervently hope that he has one. Meanwhile, I might gently suggest you enjoy the reconstituted XE while you still can. We undoubtedly won’t see its like again.
‘Tell it to me straight, doc! Will I pull though?’
‘Yeah, sure kid, you’re gonna be just fine…’
Sales data: goodcarbadcar.net
*The weekly Cropley was conspicuous in its failure to report upon this matter at the time of going to press.