JLR Reimagines Jaguar as a successful business. Good luck Thierry.
“It’s not the despair… I can stand the despair. It’s the hope…” 
So it’s finally happened. After months of deliberation, and a good deal of wild-eyed speculation, Thierry Bolloré and his JLR board have announced their Reimagine plan for the JLR business. Described in some areas of the mainstream auto press as a Bombshell, the revelations which pertain to brand-Jaguar are in fact nothing of the sort. This shift has been telegraphed for the best part of two years now.
Reimagine has been devised, Bolloré told journalists, to emphasise “quality over volume”, a tacit recognition that not only were Sir Ralph Speth’s growth projections for the JLR business wrong, but in a new post-Covid, post Brexit environment, completely unattainable. Speth’s aspirations to become a one million cars a year business foundered not only upon a Chinese market boom which could never last indefinitely, but the growth which was garnered came at considerable cost to JLR’s reputation, as their products languished close to the bottom of global reliability surveys.
But while the buck for this state of affairs must stop at the benighted former BMW executive’s door, it is his handling of the storied Jaguar brand which deserves the most criticism, for while the reversal of fortune which affected the entire JLR business over the past 18 months or so has not been catastrophic for the Land Rover side of the brand equation, the situation has become pretty dire for the leaping cat.
Speth and his board envisaged the Jaguar brand as something of a British BMW, with offerings scoped and benchmarked to compete in what has become a volume market for so-called premium offerings. But the products themselves lacked clarity, lacked distinctiveness and above all, lacked allure. It was, in what has become a time-honoured litany for brand-Jaguar, a failed growth strategy. Monday’s announcement only illustrates the starkness of this failure.
After all, it took Ford management about 13-14 years into their stewardship of Jaguar to admit they had enacted the wrong strategy and change direction – which encompassed not only the development of the first generation XF and last XJ models, but a shift away from volume towards exclusivity – and higher transaction prices. Not only was the former reversed under Speth’s JLR leadership, it has taken a similar length of time for the realisation to dawn at Gaydon that it was not the correct approach in that instance either.
As part of Monday’s announcement, Bolloré confirmed what many of us had long suspected. The oft-delayed Jaguar XJ replacement has been cancelled entirely, amid a good deal of wailing and tearing at hems. Again, for those who were following the story with any seriousness, this was merely a confirmation.
There is a heuristic known as Sunk Cost Bias, which describes a situation where an individual or a business, against logic, presses ahead with an action, owing to an acknowledgement that too much resource has been expended. Invariably, this leads to far poorer outcomes than had the decision been taken to simply cut one’s losses and start afresh. It remains unclear what factor doomed the XJ. Autocar speculates that perhaps a fundamental engineering issue was at root, but that smacks of feeding the preferred party line.
The reasons are most likely a little more nuanced. The new XJ has been knocking around for some time, having been prepared to debut in time to succeed the pensioned off X351 model, but became subject to innumerable delays. Time waits for no car, and two years later, it was already sounding like a less than cutting edge proposition.
There was also the matter of the change of stylistic guard, not only at Design Director level (Callum out – Thomson in), but also the elevation of Gerry McGovern (MBE) to a creative overseer position earlier this year. And that’s before we get to his recent gnomic profession to the press regarding Jaguar and the concept of beauty.
It’s unlikely there will be any official revelation of the axed XJ’s styling, but judging from the disguised prototype images (which were running with pre-production bodywork), it looked something of a brute, certainly not the sylphlike XJ of platonic ideal.
However, it’s equally possible that the business case for the car as developed had simply evaporated – which would not have been a first in Jaguar’s long and often embittered history.
Either way, it’s awful news for JLR’s suppliers and staff at the Castle Bromwich plant who were to build it, but drastic times often call for drastic actions. The Reimagine plan envisages the development of a new dedicated scalable EV platform to underpin a New Jag Generation, which will not, Bolloré stated, include SUVs – that being Land Rover’s job. So less Jaguars, but more exclusive ones.
This is the easy part. Thierry Bolloré has defined the problem and his plan to arrest the situation has met with press approval. The difficult part is execution, because if Jaguar is to succeed, there can be no more slip-ups or leaps into the hard shoulder. Get it wrong this time and the cat really will be sunk.
 A quote from the 1986 movie, Clockwise, starring John Cleese – a state of mind numbingly familiar to most Jaguar aficionados.
 Bolloré’s plans also involve a more focussed approach to model lines within the Land Rover side of the business, which could be significant for the likes of Velar and Discovery – both of which overlap noticeably with other JLR products.
 At their peak, Jaguar volumes came to around 180,000 units, a mere 10% of BMW’s.
 According to my sources, the new XJ was intended to be both plug-in hybrid and full-EV.
 Reliable sources also suggest it was no ravishing beauty. The X351 alienated as much as it allured. This was not a strategy Jaguar could afford to repeat.
So successfully that the impartial-to-a-fault, Steve (Goldfinger) Cropley breathlessly described Bolloré as the living embodiment of the messiah. Talk about the kiss of death.