The Last of England

Jaguar’s compact post-Millennial contender misfired badly. We look back on the X-Type and reconsider its legacy.

Image: Sunday Times Driving

New Jag Generation.

In car manufacture, there can be no success without failure, each new model an educated shot in the dark, each failure a reproach, all the more so should the product in question represent a new market sector for its maker. Moving downmarket carries greater risk, for the virtues to which customers have become familiar and value most must be offered in diminished form. Nor does development cost fall, any gains being rooted in volume and economies of scale. Furthermore, once a business has taken such a step, there really is no going back.

To some extent therefore, the X-Type irreparably damaged brand-Jaguar, the carmaker never quite recovering from the financial losses incurred by the X400 programme. The figures involved are sobering. According to a study carried out by corporate analysts, Sanford C Bernstein a number of years ago, Jaguar allegedly lost €4600 on every X-Type sold – an overall loss amounting to over €1.7 billion.

Widely viewed as Jaguar’s deadliest sin and the butt of derision amongst the more sensationalist automotive press, the story behind the X-Type’s less than charmed career is not only more complex than is often told, but deserves a less emotive, more nuanced telling. But beforehand we must first confront the the heel of history – the unbearable weight of heritage.

Jaguars might have been many things, but prior to Ford’s 1989 takeover they had not been ordinary. Jaguar existed in a slightly rarefied position – neither as expensive nor well wrought as their predominantly German rivals, more of an indulgent, individualistic, aesthete’s choice. But if we are to judge the X-Type against this definition, its case must appear gossamer thin.

Because despite being a well-engineered, broadly credible attempt at a compact 3-Series fighter, the X-Type as it was first offered simply lacked sufficient allure. Worse still, the widespread perception of it being an ordinary car with ideas above its station stuck fast. An unpardonable sin, especially for a car bearing such a storied nameplate.

X-Type was primarily a consequence of the Ford Motor Company’s takeover of Jaguar in 1989. Having spent a tech baron’s ransom on the purchase price, Ford, whose senior executives are said to have ignored warnings of their profligacy, were required to justify the decision, especially in the wake of a brutal 1990 recession which saw the blue oval having to pump $millions into Browns Lane just to keep the lights on.

Two years later, following a massive re-organisation, and the infusion of large numbers of Ford personnel, a plan was enacted to expand Jaguar’s operations massively, more than trebling their annual output, pitching right into the heart of the junior-executive car market, in direct competition with the German big three.[1]

Ford’s product planners were amongst the best in the business, but in retrospect they do seem to have made a number of crucial errors. One of which being that they seemingly believed what their customer data was telling them, because not only was there no precedent for one, but also as they would later discover, little real appetite for a junior-Jaguar.

Nor was there much enthusiasm within Jaguar themselves for that matter. As an independent entity, there were no plans for such a compact model line. Around 1994, the decision to proceed with the X400 programme was taken, necessitating the largest investment in the company’s history, yet failure seems to have been baked into it being from the outset.

Several significant and damning errors took place as X400 entered the scoping phase. Firstly, having ruled out a downsized version of the S-Type’s DEW98 platform owing to cost and packaging issues, and lacking another rear-drive platform to draw upon (widely regarded as a prerequisite in this class-riven sector), the result could only be a fudge.

Consequently, a four-wheel drive base was derived from elements of the second-generation Mondeo’s CD132 front-drive platform. However, despite claims that neither the lengths, widths nor wheelbases were shared between cars, this would become the stick with which the resultant car would be beaten time and again. But like most shibboleths, it contains more than a grain of truth. For although there was nothing fundamentally amiss in employing such a layout, the rationale which underpinned it seeded the ingredients which contributed to the car’s downfall.

Jaguar’s product strategists had discerned a growing market in the United States for compact sports sedans of the BMW 3-Series ilk, meaning that the initial exclusive use of larger-capacity V6 engines was not considered an impediment – especially since it was envisaged that at least half of X-Type production would be sent across the Atlantic.

Strategists are said to have feared diluting Jaguar’s image by the use of four cylinder engines, which would by necessity be sourced from within the blue oval ranks. Given the vast improvement in Ford’s (petrol) engine offerings by the turn of the millennium, this ought not to have been an intractable issue, but sensitivities were such that they were ruled out, ignoring the fact that throughout Europe, most junior-executive cars were chosen with engines of 2-litres or less.[2]

The two engines available at launch were V6 units (of 2.5 and 3.0 litre capacities) based upon existing Ford Duratec units. Cylinder heads and engine ancillaries were unique to X-Type, said to have much in common with the larger AJ-V8 unit. The 3.0 litre version of the compact Cosworth developed V6, employing variable valve timing and inlet tracts developed 240bhp and 221lb ft of torque.[3] However, nothing larger than the AJ-V6 would fit.

Meanwhile, creating a car which met the requisite packaging benchmarks was further complicated by the knowledge that X400 already encroached upon the more expensive S-Type model – itself uncomfortably close in dimensions to the flagship XJ series – the latter a car which had not been benchmarked by Ford in dimensional terms.[4] By consequence, X400’s version of the CD132 platform went under the knife; 44 mm being shorn from the wheelbase (against its Mondeo equivalent), some of this taken from that all important dash-to axle dimension, but despite the rather drastic remodelling, X400 still managed to offer more rear legroom than an S-Type.[5]

X400 was planned from the outset to employ all-wheel drive, it’s 60% rear biased layout developed with suppler, Visteon. But owing to the nature of its technical package, a great deal of componentry had to be shoehorned into a very confined space. One knock-on effect of this would mean the transfer box for the all-wheel-drive system was by necessity smaller than optimal, which would have repercussions later.

Design is the dress of thought, and a shapely exterior would do much to assuage any of X400’s architectural deficiencies. Jaguar’s Design Director, Geoff Lawson had many fine qualities, and while he had sufficient vision to recognise that Jaguar design could not look backwards indefinitely, the cars he is most associated with were in the main retrospective, and somewhat tentative. In this he was encouraged by Dearborn’s senior management, for whom it seems, cats could only leap sideways.

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With X400, Lawson’s team at Whitley found themselves working to a somewhat restrictive brief. Lead designers, Wayne Burgess and Simon Butterworth tried a number of different treatments for the new model; Burgess latterly displaying some of these on social media, a number of which combined frontal aspects inspired by the X100 XK model, and one which harked back to that of the XJS. Also rendered were proposals for coupé and convertible versions.

What these renders do illustrate was a degree of uncertainty as to how a compact Jaguar should look, suggesting the lack of a clear, unambiguous theme from their director. Jaguar had never built a car of this ilk, meaning there was no meaningful heritage to draw upon. In its absence, and with all due credit to Burgess et al, it seemed to be a case of trawling the visual back catalogue to see what could be repurposed to suit.

While it is unclear what (if any) external designs formed part of X400’s visual moodboard, two designs in particular, illustrating how to successfully combine relative compactness with an elegance of line ought perhaps to have concentrated minds at Whitley.

In 1992, Mazda introduced the Xedos 6. This elegant upmarket four-door sports saloon, based on Mazda’s mainstream Capella’s underpinnings, was clothed in a body of surpassing grace, one which managed to successfully mask its front-drive architecture with a body style which led many to (quite understandably) draw comparisons to the leaping cat.

Xedos 6. Image: auto-data.org

Five years later saw the advent of Alfa Romeo’s 156. Created using elements of the Fiat Marea platform, yet justifiably regarded as an acknowledged styling classic, the 156 was a superbly realised marriage of tradition and modernity.[6]

It is highly likely that Jaguar’s stylists would have preferred a more progressive approach (designers usually do), but not only were they hemmed-in by the weight of history, the dictates from above were for something immediately recognisable as a Jaguar, which in Dearborn parlance meant traditional looking.

The selected theme emerged very much a direct reference to the upcoming X350 XJ saloon, then in the early stages of development. The fact that X400’s engineering hardpoints were so compromised can only have tightened the cord around Burgess and his team. In effect, what might have been a handsome, if conservative shape became hobbled by awkward proportions, cab-forward stance, retro applique, unhappy canopy-to-body ratio and fussy graphics.

Intended to appeal to a younger demographic, X400’s exterior style presented something of a contrary statement, but the feeling was that a conservative style, à la BMW was where the market was gravitating. Likewise X-Type’s cabin; reflective of a style intended to suggest that of the more expensive Jaguar models, the execution erred a little too far towards the past. And while both trim and switchgear were unique to Jaguar, X400’s interior too would disappoint.

Dials on a plank sir? X-Type Cabin. Image: Autoevolution

Producing a world-class rival to BMW’s state of the sector 3-Series was perhaps the most onerous task that could be asked of an engineering team who were not only undermanned, but for this manner of vehicle, lacking in direct experience. As indeed were Ford themselves, unable to realistically offer much, apart from the services of chassis guru, Mike Cross.

But with optimism high and X400 a priority project, the full might of the blue oval was provided to expedite development. Extensive use of computer-aided design slashed gestation time and prototypes were sent to far-flung outposts from Timmins in the Canadian wastes to Cobar in Australia and the high-speed Nardo circuit at the heel of Italy.

A further headache would be locating a suitable site to build the car. Browns Lane was out of the question; Ford’s intention being to shift mainstream production out of Jaguar’s aged, cramped and increasingly hemmed-in home. With Castle Bromwich the favoured plant for Jaguar’s existing model lines, the feeling was there simply wouldn’t be the capacity for the X400 volumes envisaged.[7]

X400 clay model at the Whitley studio. Image via Wayne Burgess/ Instagram

Eventually, the newly decommissioned Escort manufacturing plant at Halewood in Merseyside was selected as X400’s home. However, the necessity to refit Halewood to the tune of £300m placed huge pressure upon X400 to perform. As costs escalated, the break-even point for the programme rose exponentially; volumes of over 100,000 per annum now becoming essential for X400’s viability.[8]

Management believed they could achieve the bulk of X400’s volume through the US market, but there was trepidation too; Jaguar’s then US sales chief, Mike O’Driscoll telling Autoweek, “We’re in the risk-taking business guys. We’ve got hundreds of millions invested in this car and if people don’t like it we’re in trouble”.

The X-Type was officially introduced in October 2001. Advertising showed photogenic thirty-somethings smouldering at one another over an atmospheric Chris Isaak soundtrack. X-Type launched in saloon form only with a choice of two V6 engines, manual or automatic transmissions and standard AWD. Initial reaction to the car was broadly positive and early interest appeared promising.

What then of Jaguar’s rivals?

(c): car body design

Alfa Romeo’s 156 was sensual, seductive and possessed of an abundance of verve, but as an ownership prospect, there were probably easier mistresses.

Image: Autoevolution

Audi was by 2001 at peak-Bauhaus, the B6-generation A4 a symphony of obsessively crafted minimalist rectitude, both inside and without. The only truly modern design of the group?

(c) favcars

BMW’s E46 3er was also something of a pinnacle, insofar as it not only represented a final flowering of time-honoured Vierzylinder style, but also an object lesson in proportion and finely judged semiotics. The Bavarian carmaker never got as close to 3-Series perfection again.

(c) carpixel

Mercedes W203 C-Class was not their finest hour by any stretch, either stylistically or from a quality perspective, but the three pointed star on the bonnet covered a multitude, and that was enough.

(c) favcars

Rover’s 75, while often cited in reference to Jaguar’s S-Type was really more of an X-Type rival, matching it more closely on engine capacity and price. Falling somewhere between both Jaguars dimensionally, the Cowley built Rover carried the retro card with a good deal more conviction and a lot more cohesion.

Considering its key rivals, the X-Type, given its nameplate and lineage ought to have found a comfortable niche in the market and held its own. How then did it all go wrong?

[1] Chairman, Sir Nick Scheele bullishly informed journalists in 1998 that volumes of over 200,000 cars per annum was a realistic aim for this new Jag’ generation.

[2] Despite the growing popularity (and sophistication) of the powertrain across most European markets, there appears to have been little consideration of diesel powertrains prior to launch. 

[3] The design of the Ford (Cleveland) V6 is believed to have been originally the work of Porsche, who later sold the design to Ford/ Cosworth. 

[4] The contemporary XJ saloon (X308) was a development of the 1986 XJ40, a car which was designed very much as a traditional Jaguar – in looks, feel and market position. It was however, notably snug within the passenger cabin, a matter addressed with its eventual replacement, which was very much a packaging design.

[5] X-Type’s wheelbase was 2710 mm, with an overall length of 4672mm, while the S-Type was 4905 mm in length, with a wheelbase of 2909 mm (larger than that of a standard length X308 XJ). At 2003 mm, the X400 was 57mm narrower than the S-Type.

[6] Given the likely timelines, it’s possible that Jaguar’s styling team wouldn’t have been aware of the Alfa 156 before X400’s style was frozen for production.

[7] Ironically, had Ford sanctioned a downsized version of the DEW98 platform, X400 could conceivably have been built alongside the S-Type on the same lines, obviating the need for the Halewood refit and saving the programme $millions.

[8] This appears to underline a statement attributed to Sir John Egan prior to Jaguar’s hostile takeover in 1989, which can be paraphrased as; “a larger business doesn’t take you over for your benefit, but for their own.” 

One could also cite the Lexus IS 200 as an X-Type rival, but owing to a number of factors, it has been left out of this comparison.

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US market X-Types were fitted with a bonnet-mounted ‘leaper’ ornament. Image cars.com

The X-Type’s heyday – brutish and short.

The Jaguar X-Type made its world debut at the Geneva motor show in March 2001 amid a good deal of optimism, Jaguar’s then Managing Director, Jonathan Browning outlining the model’s significance to the press in transformative terms. In this he would be proven correct, albeit not in the manner intended. 

Early reviews spoke of a car which met the required criteria of Jaguar-ness. Reporters seemed particularly keen to get any Mondeo references out of the way quickly. Much too was made of Jaguar’s (more successful) efforts to avoid the justifiable criticism levelled at the larger S-Type offering upon launch in 1998, whose cabin was decried as being of a distinctly US ‘hire-car’ ambience.

American imprint, Autoweek noted that while the X-Type’s styling “borders on clutter with its copious, otherwise welcome Jaguar styling cues,” over several hundred test miles behind the wheel at the car’s UK-based press-launch, much of it on undulating English B-roads, there was praise aplenty. “It’s the ride-handling mix, a blend of comfortable isolation from the harshest road surfaces and a sense of control and performance ability that distinguishes it. Is it a real Jaguar? Yes.

The New Jag Generation,” the X-Type’s marketing line, carried an implication that the compact Jaguar would open up the storied brand to a younger, more dynamic demographic, who would progress up the range as they gained in age and affluence, and certainly, the car’s dynamics were geared more towards that audience. Shifting Jaguar’s customer centre of gravity from a predominance amid the gated compounds of Florida’s retirement communities was considered essential to the brand’s longer-term viability.

But the X-Type’s early popularity, such as it was, appeared to lie largely with downsizing retirees, who appreciated the fact that it looked just like the XJ they were in many cases trading against it, or with those who simply hankered for a slice of Albion.

Timing is everything in life. Jaguar introduced the X-Type to the American market in the Spring of 2002 and the moment was anything but auspicious. The United States, traumatised from the events of the previous Autumn had in fact been in recession (the after-effects of a failed dot-com investor-bubble) for some months prior to September 11, and Wall Street was plunged into even deeper crisis by the Al Qaeda attacks.

In its wake, a large number of major US corporations failed – some observers viewing 9/11 as a catalyst: Enron, Worldcom, Tyco and Xerox amongst the higher profile casualties no longer able to paper the cracks. And while Congress put through a $1.35 trillion tax cut in 2002 which precipitated something of a consumer bounce, it was to prove shortlived as individuals and businesses adjusted to a wholly new set of realities. By year’s end, both business and consumer confidence was falling.

Never paragons of durability, Jaguar’s US market reputation had for decades been of a decidedly chequered variety. It was not until a full-time engineering and proving outpost was constructed in Arizona around 1985 that the carmaker began to firstly understand, and then remedy many of the baked-in issues relating to their existing cars. Ford’s purchase of Jaguar in 1989 however led to total reorganisation, and the wholesale adoption of the blue oval’s procedures and processes.

Jaguar’s rapid adoption of Ford’s quality systems, a function of their relatively small size and complete buy-in throughout the business saw the carmaker go from second-last in JD Power’s quality rankings in 1991 to the top position by 1997 – to the surprise of Ford’s own senior management, whose products still languished in mid-field at the time. Jaguar had made a lot of progress on the build and durability front by 2001, so it was all the more disappointing that issues would later emerge, gaining the model a reputation for fragility and expensive repair bills.[1]

But despite a positive initial reception, early X-Type sales were modest – its debut year being best for American deliveries with just over 33,000 finding takers – a respectable figure, but a good deal short of projections. Sales nosed steadily downwards from there and from 2004 X-Type US sales went into freefall, halving the following year, then halving once again in 2006, when just shy of 11,000 were delivered.

Across Europe, the picture was less bleak, yet broadly of a similar nature. 2002 sales echoed those of the US, with just short of 31,000 being delivered. In mitigation, a lack of smaller-engined variants acted as a brake on initial demand, where taxation regimes in many countries militated against the car. 2004 saw a brief reprieve with a sales spike that year of 38,400 X-Types. And while the subsequent falloff was not as precipitous, the direction was nonetheless assuredly downwards.

By 2001, Jaguar formed part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group (PAG), headed by Wolfgang Reitzle. The former BMW Wunderkind was regarded as having perhaps the keenest instincts for product excellence, this side of Ferdinand Piëch, and under his leadership, plans for Jaguar were for a range of closely related saloons all spun off a shared aluminium sub-structure. Sanctioned prior to his appointment, X-Type was unreservedly not a Reitzle car, the patrician product guru viewing it with a certain elegant distaste.

However, once Jacques Nasser was replaced as Ford Motor Company CEO by Sir Nick Scheele[2] in 2001, Reitzle, frustrated by Dearborn’s unwillingness to fully commit to his product plans and reportedly not prepared to be Scheele’s fall-guy departed abruptly the following year. It’s probably not unreasonable to suggest that the PAG group’s prospects died then.

In 2002, a 2.1 litre version of the AJ-V6 engine debuted for certain European markets, aimed at broadening the model’s appeal, but its swept volume kept it on the wrong side of affordable tax bands in many EU countries. This model was also notable as being the first Jaguar-badged car in its history to be sold with front-wheel drive – a matter the press made much of. Nobody else particularly cared, not least as it was a sluggish a performer and not a success.

The Autumn of 2003 saw the belated introduction of a turbodiesel version – a 1993 cc Ford-Mondeo sourced power unit[3] (manual-only, driving the front wheels), followed by the debut of a well executed estate model; Autocar in October of that year fatuously stating that the UK ‘s Audi dealers should be worried.

Sales figures are something of a blunt tool in terms of causality, but what can be discerned from them is that initial demand for the X-Type was not stellar, and without supporting evidence of any supply-related issues, the logical conclusion is that as a commercial proposition, the car never really caught on. Even at its Worldwide sales peak (around 2003/4), X-Type sales fell considerably short of expectations.

Image: honest-john

By mid-decade, Dearborn was chilling towards their resource-hungry English prestige arm, especially as wounds were still being licked over losses incurred from Ford’s underperforming (Jaguar-branded) Formula 1 programme, which retreated into ignominy at the close of 2004 – the blue oval selling the entire outfit to Red Bull, who made rather more of a success of it.

X-Type’s disappointing sales saw initial ambitions for additional bodystyles and more performance-orientated halo models[4] falter. By 2004, fissures were growing with newly appointed Jaguar Managing Director, Bibiana Boerio informing Automotive News that executives were openly questioning whether “the X-type is a true Jaguar?” With industry analysts citing Jaguar USA’s policy of cheap lease offers as devaluing the brand, there were growing calls for the model to be withdrawn from the US entirely.

In the wake of the outcry surrounding the Browns Lane factory closure, Jaguar’s Joe Greenwell testified to UK parliamentarians at the November 2004 Select Committee on Trade and Industry, admitting that Ford had overseen “a failed growth strategy.” He went on to issue a chilling indictment of the blue oval’s relationship with brand-Jaguar telling the committee, “Ford acquired Jaguar 15 years ago and, quite candidly, it has not had a satisfactory return from that business and yet it has continued to invest billions of pounds in Jaguar“.

His tone was contrite, yet upbeat, telling the committee; “I think the right way forward is, as I indicated earlier, that Jaguar should concentrate on producing great Jaguars and when it does, it makes money. It will be niche, it will be distinctive, but I would rather we made money out of the units we sold than we push volume, as we have done, and make these losses and put the company at risk. We are not going to do that.

Having acknowledged their error, management began to loosen the creative screws, allowing Jaguar to begin rebalancing its offer towards core values. But it was already too late. By 2006, Jaguar had become an unsustainable liability. Having invested $billions, Ford had been rewarded with little but deepening pools of red ink and the prospect of never-ending financial dependency.

Land Rover Freelanders come off the line at Halewood. Image: Reuters.

Meanwhile, having acquired the Land Rover business from BMW in 2001, LR announced the second generation L359 Freelander model that year. This all new model, built on a Ford-derived EUCD platform would be built alongside the X-Type at Halewood, bolstering the now under-utilised plant’s viability in the wake of the Jaguar’s lukewarm reception. Itself no paragon of reliability, the Freelander nonetheless proved rather more of a commercial success.

Mark Fields was appointed to manage the PAG holding in the wake of Rietzle’s departure in 2002, telling Car magazine in 2014 that Ford had initially hoped PAG would provide one-third of blue oval profits by mid-decade. But it was not to be. “Jaguar was in very bad shape. We had too much capacity, a vehicle line up that didn’t deliver the brand, we were smack in the middle of the X-type experience. It was a real lesson for us: badge engineering to turn a Ford into a Jaguar – extra leather isn’t going to cut it!

With US sales of the X-Type barely exceeding 5,000 cars in 2006, it was decided to pull the model from North America entirely, although a trickle were delivered in 2007. With Ford now actively seeking a buyer for the limping cat, it is likely that a facelift (introduced that Autumn), was viewed as a matter of expedience. Surprisingly, and notwithstanding the lack of sheet metal changes, the revisions were significant, but to be blunt, at least two years late to market for them to have had any real market significance.

Changes centred primarily upon modernising the visuals and improving the interior ambience. The revisions added up to a good deal more than the sum of their parts, lending the X-Type a visual appeal it wholly lacked at launch. The facelifted car debuted a new, more powerful 2.2-litre turbodiesel[5] (with an automatic option), while the 3-litre petrol unit was retained as the sole option – the others having been axed, along with the bulk of Jaguar’s sales ambitions.

Once again, timing was not Jaguar’s forte, the facelifted model arriving just in time for the 2008 financial crisis, so it is hardly surprising that sales remained in the doldrums. However, the revised models probably prevented a total collapse – the X-Type by this point selling largely on incentives and specification. Jaguar was moving on, and the X-Type was now viewed as something of an embarrassment by senior management. When asked about the model at a press event in 2009, Mike O’ Driscoll[6] quipped, “Do we still make it? I’d like to put a stake through its heart.

Later in the year, he did just that, the X-Type axed early at the cost of 300 jobs at Halewood, which was also shut down temporarily. A spokesman emphasised that job losses would be of a voluntary nature, Halewood now required for a new generation of car, one which would prove to be the diametric opposite in looks and appeal to yesterday’s Jaguar: JLR’s 2010 Evoque crossover.[7]

By then the UK motor press had turned fire on the hapless Jag, commentators lining up to take pot-shots at the car many of them lauded to the skies in 2001. Over a 9-year lifespan, 362,000 were produced. Given that projections were for between 100,000-150,000 a year to be sold, this can only be viewed as a massively disappointing outcome.

[1] Driveline faults (the transfer case being a prime cause – also reported failures of the JATCO automatic transmission), and electronic gremlins. In addition, some well-publicised faults with diesel pumps and dual-mass flywheels in the European market diesel models.

[2] Sir Nick Scheele’s pathway to the top floor at Dearborn’s Glasshouse was via Browns Lane, where he served for a time during the 1990s as Jaguar CEO. As such, he was one of the architects of Jaguar’s Rapid Growth Strategy, latterly dubbed a failure. 

[3] The 2.0 litre diesel unit was sourced from the Mondeo and was a rather uncouth device, despite efforts to silence it. Its lack of refinement and subsequent durability woes suggesting that perhaps it was rushed into service?

[4] A supercharged R version of the X-Type was to be offered as a halo model. According to Autoweek, it was scheduled for the X-Type’s third model year, but was never green-lit. Suggestions that the transfer box couldn’t handle the engine’s torque are unsubstantiated.

[5] The 2.2 diesel unit was suppled by Ford and differed entirely from the more refined PSA-derived unit fitted to the equivalent Freelander 2 – for reasons which are not clear.

[6] Jaguar seemed to burn through more than cash during this period – there seemingly being a different MD or CEO for each successive year – hardly a recipe for success or continuity.

[7] The Evoque was originally a Jaguar advanced studio project, overseen by Julian Thomson. It was also exactly the kind of product Jaguar desperately needed to turn around its prospects.

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Does X stand for expedience? Image: Autocentrum.pl

Understanding the X-Type.

Given the unprecedented levels of investment, and the expectations of both maker and benefactor, the X-Type had a good deal of heavy lifting to do. Its eventual failure not only cost Jaguar dearly, it set the carmaker back to such an extent that it never truly recovered. X-type was commissioned with one overarching mission, to more than double Jaguar’s sales volumes, transforming the carmaker as a serious player in the luxury car market, especially in the US, where these cars had historically sold in large quantities. But the X400 misfired, falling well short of projections, and as it would transpire, fiscal break-even. How so?

A moment, if you will. Lest the following reads as a full-throated orgy of blue oval bashing, we should first exact the following proviso:

While Ford’s management deserves a good deal of the collateral opprobrium over their stewardship of the leaping cat, they also deserve a good deal of credit. Much of the $billions poured into Browns Lane and Whitley was to Jaguar’s benefit, as a good many insiders have attested. Build integrity and durability became at the very least, class-competitive for the first time and if the cars were somewhat old-fashioned in appearance, they were entirely modern where it mattered.

Furthermore, once Ford management realised how badly they were mishandling Jaguar, they sanctioned the X150 XK, X250 XF and X351 XJ – all progressive cars that were not only credible, but looked it. But regrettably before this came to pass, a good many unforced errors had first to be made.

In 2008, former design chief Ian Callum made the rather sensational statement to the UK’s Financial Times newspaper alleging that the X-type was essentially designed in Detroit and was presented to the Jaguar board as a fait accompli. Now, while this has a faint whiff of exaggeration to it (Callum was not at Jaguar when the X400 was being scoped or designed), his strong links within the Ford organisation at the time probably means he was, if not privy to the machinations of the period, at least made aware of them.

With the benefit of hindsight, Ford’s product planners appear to have misread the luxury car market, to a greater or lesser extent with each of Jaguar’s saloon models of the period, but with X-Type in particular. There seemed to be an over-emphasis on doing it by the book; strategists employing a Ford-based checklist system to define features and benchmarks; fine when scoping consumer durables, but less helpful when one is attempting to create an object of desire.

Jaguar’s strategists seemed caught between stools, requiring sales volume to amortise the costs associated with the programme, but at the same time unable (or unwilling) to specify the car in a manner that would encourage them, most specifically in European markets.

The X-Type represented a huge missed opportunity for Jaguar in Europe. There was a good deal of residual affection for the brand and an affordable offering, specified in a manner that suited local conditions should have sold in respectable numbers, but the emphasis on the US market appeared to have blindsided Jaguar’s planners until far too late. The X-Type’s pricing also being somewhat on the cheeky side for what it was.

Part of the X-Type’s mission was to reduce the median age of Jaguar customers. This too was to prove a thwarted ambition, largely because the rationale which attracted more mature buyers to the car led the 30-45 age cohort, who weren’t especially keen on something that looked like their dad’s Jag, to reject the somewhat ersatz X-Type in favour of more dynamic looking rivals with more street credibility and stronger branding.[1]

At this time, the Ford Motor Company, under the leadership of Jac Nasser appeared to be dispensing money in all directions, amongst the most profligate being the ill-starred Grand Prix programme, an attempt to infuse brand-Jaguar with the glamour and allure of Formula One. Jaguar had no heritage in the arena, so not only was it an uncomfortable shoehorn-fit, it had little real chance of success.

When the X-Type was being conceived, popular media was suffused with elements and iconographs of Sixties culture, be it within rave culture, fashion, music or film. Car design too had been of a reflective nature for some time, with many carmakers seeking new meaning from the designs of the past. In this, Jaguar were perhaps slightly ahead of the curve, having adopted this approach well before it became a ‘thing’.

However, there was a paradigm-shift occurring, one which would be turbocharged by geopolitics, the rise of the internet and of Big Tech. In 2001 Apple Inc revolutionised everyone’s relationship with interactive digital technology with the introduction of itunes and the ipod. An invasive species began seeping inexorably into our lives without our full understanding, but with our wholehearted consent.

Couple this with the events of September 2001 in the United States, not to mention the already parlous state of the US economy and the world the X-Type was entering had turned on a sixpence.

And so to confront the elephant in the room, the fateful ‘M-word’: This is something of a conflated issue, specifically the implication that it was somehow infradignitatum for Jaguar to adopt a front-driven layout, one taken from a lowly Ford Mondeo no less. The. Holy. Mortifying. Shame. Viewed in these simplistic throwaway terms, the barb can reasonably be dismissed as palpable nonsense, both in itself and especially when other prestige carmakers did likewise without a squeak of protest.

But not quite so fast: Where the argument gains traction is when one considers what compromises the CD platform hard points dictated upon the nascent X-Type. These enforced an East-West layout, limiting Jaguar to transaxle powertrains, and a compulsory all-wheel-drive layout, also ladling needless weight and complexity. This in turn led to packaging difficulties, and a problematic drivetrain from an NVH and durability perspective – each compromised solution leading on to the next.

The hard points also established the position of the windscreen relative to the front axle (that all-important dash-to-axle ratio), enforced a longer front overhang, placing limitations upon the designers who had to visually minimise it;[2] these factors, combined with an enforced change in dimensions lent the resultant design a somewhat unhappy, truncated appearance.

But isn’t the art of car design about working within set limitations and somehow transcending them? Jaguar’s designers were anything but untalented,[3] so it was not beyond their capabilities to produce something gracefully modernist. But a combination of a restrictive creative brief and a hidebound set of decision-makers put paid to any such ideals. So was the X-Type’s styling the fatal error?

It is important here to make a clear distinction. There was little wrong with the X-Type’s styling theme, apart from it being somewhat on the conservative side. Yes, if one wishes to be critical, there was rather too much of it, as though management looked at the styling model and demanded, ‘add more Jaguar!’[4] But this aside, given the brief they were handed, Wayne Burgess and his team did a good job.

The problem with the car’s appearance has everything to do with the platform that underpinned it and the inescapable fact that Jaguar’s design team were unable to transcend or adequately mask it. What remains is a tidy looking car with unhappy proportions, an unfortunate stance and a somewhat lumpen appearance. On a different set of hard points, we might now be viewing the X with more sympathetic eyes.

This aspect becomes particularly acute because by then, just about everyone was enacting more convincing Jaguar impressions than Jaguar were themselves. Nevertheless, whatever one’s view of X400’s appearance (and some admire it), one has to concede that the styling proved ephemeral and its appeal quickly faded.

But crucially, either for reasons outlined above, or otherwise, the X-Type failed to appeal to the North American customer, the market the car was primarily targeted towards. This, more than any other factor sealed its fate.

The X-Type (a car they didn’t ask for or necessarily want), gave Jaguar scale, but lumbered the business with excess capacity, huge levels of complexity[5] and fixed costs that would cripple them, playing a decisive role in Jaguar’s lack of viability and Ford’s inevitable decision to offload the marque in 2008.

It is also possible to argue that the experience traumatised Jaguar’s management, making them on one hand more risk-averse and yet by curious irony, allowing conditions to arise where almost exactly the same mistakes were made a generation later with a vastly different suite of hardware. Because say what you will about the current XE, it comes across very much as X-Type redux.[6]

A classic case of starting out with bad directions? Perhaps. Given the level of ingenuity required for Jaguar’s engineers to make such a series of compromises work, it was testimony to them that X-Type turned out to be what it was – a thoroughly capable, broadly competent product – a wholly pleasant car, but neither a demonstrably better, nor significantly nicer one than its more established rivals.

When you buy a historic brand like Jaguar you have a choice – nurture it largely as is or attempt to bend it to your will and ambition. Ford chose the latter and Jaguar broke in the attempt. Was that Ford or Jaguar’s fault? It probably doesn’t matter now.

The argument over the X-Type will rage for generations. Those who own and enjoy the cars will continue to vehemently defend them. Those who view X400 as an abomination will never see beyond their equally entrenched position. But a lot of ground exists between those opposing polarities – one just don’t see it written down very often.

But if Ford senior management’s understanding of the luxury sector remains open to debate, beyond argument is that from a purely creative and product perspective, the blue oval simply did not sufficiently understand how to create an object of desire.

This meant that the brief was wrong, the programme therefore becoming bedevilled by expedience, and scuppered by crippling fixed costs. More damning still, on the basis of sales performance alone it is very difficult to see a compelling commercial rationale for the car at all.

Jaguar has always been at heart a specialist, low-volume carmaker. Pursuing a growth strategy based on the idea of producing what amounted to Jaguar-flavoured cars was destined to failure. Ford management failed to understand this, believing that they could create a powerhouse, BMW-rivalling brand around the leaping cat on a budget. They were wrong.[7]

Image credit: (c) motordesktop

Ian Callum, who stated that he was “disappointed” when first shown the finalised X400 design in 1999 provided the following summation of the X-Type for Jaguar World Magazine a number of years ago: “If the design had been strong enough, the Ford platform could have been forgotten, but nobody was in love with the car and the press had a swipe at it.

Is that enough of an epitaph?

Strange what desire will make foolish people do”. On second thoughts, perhaps Chris Isaak put it best.

[1] This author fell within the X-Type’s target age group in 2001, and still vividly recalls the acute disappointment he felt with X400’s appearance at launch. Coming on the back of the 1998 S-Type, the immediate post-millennium period was a very depressing time to be a Jaguariste.

[2] Amongst the limitations inherent in this aspect of the original X-Type’s design was the car’s ‘stoved-in’ grille treatment; the ‘over-bite’ a visual means of minimising the frontal overhang.

[3] We ought not forget that Wayne Burgess was the lead exterior designer for the Aston Martin DB9, a car rightly acknowledged as a styling masterpiece.

[4] Ford’s checklist approach appeared to run to styling as well; Julian Thomson once being quoted that Ford had produced a Jaguar style guide for designers; a kind of click-a-cue catalogue for an insta-Jag. Just add water. Ah, easy for Sir William…

[5] This scattergun approach would see Jaguar overseeing three separate manufacturing sites, none of which would, as it would transpire run to capacity. Furthermore, by 2001 they were producing four distinct product lines, each on entirely unrelated platforms.

[6] The subsequent (even worse) sales performance of the XE model, the X-Type’s lineal successor, developed by JLR from first principles at vast expense on a bespoke aluminium rear-drive platform, only lends further weight to this contention.

[7] They weren’t the last either. 

One could make the argument that in the fullness of time, the X-Type’s fixed costs at Halewood were amortised by the success of Land Rover’s successive EUCD-based offerings – Freelander 2, Discovery Sport and Evoque. However, tell that one to Ford, who never saw a penny of it.

©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.

Sources: Automotive News / Bernstein Research / AROnline / Practical Classics / Jaguar World /Autoweek/ Car magazine/ Autocar/  The Guardian. . Sales data from Carsalesbase.com

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

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