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.
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; 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, 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!’ 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 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.
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.
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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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…
 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.
 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.
 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.
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