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.
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 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 (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.
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 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.
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 (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 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.
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.
In the final piece, we will examine the whys and wherefores.
 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.
 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.
 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?
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
Sources: Car magazine/ Autocar/ Autoweek/ The Guardian. Sales figures via carsalesbase.com