‘Place your tray tables in the upright locked position…’
Steve Cropley is seemingly a worried man. The veteran auto-journalist wrung his hands this week over the lack of meaningful intelligence emerging from Thierry Bolloré’s JLR boardroom over the future direction of the serially-troubled Jaguar brand. Almost a year has passed, he stated since the French CEO announced the Re-Imagine plan for the car business, which is attempting to emerge from a series of crises: political, pandemical and of its own making.
Now before we go any further, it is worth pointing out that while the estimable Mr. Cropley might sometimes come across as such, he is no fool, more a journalist who is content to indulge his readers’ prejudices and predilections – JLR’s current leader being a case in point.
While Bolloré was certainly a surprise appointment given his less-than stellar prior track record at Groupe Renault, the Autocar grandee lauded him in 2020 as something akin to the messiah. But apart from setting out his plans for the future, Bolloré is under no obligation to say anything more to the press until he deems the moment opportune.
But this is will not stand: Having seemingly enjoyed the confidence of former JLR supremo, Sir Ralph Speth, not to mention exclusive access to future plans, ‘our man on the ground’ appears to be feeling a little under-briefed amid the glacial Frenchman’s current regime. But should we share the Autocar scribe’s concerns?
2021 has been a challenging year for the entire global motor business. With the bulk of JLR’s manufacturing UK-based, they have quite understandably been afflicted by supply-chain issues, to say nothing of any additional Brexit-related paperwork or due diligence that leaving the EU has precipitated. The Midlands-based carmaker has also been pummelled by the global semiconductor shortage, a consequence of JLR’s relatively small scale and limited purchasing power by comparison to larger, better resourced and chip-hungrier rivals.
Ironically, the pandemic itself has probably had less of an effect during 2021, the UK government’s policies meaning that there were fewer restrictions on movement or close contact, especially after the self-styled ‘freedom day’ in the early summer. Furthermore, the pandemic has if anything heightened demand for expensive luxury cars – the ‘life’s too short’ argument recently posited by Rolls Royce CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös .
How bad were things for JLR in 2021? Well, according to a recent report by reputable auto-journalist Nick Gibbs for Automotive News, JLR sales as a whole took a 1.2% dive last year, citing 420,856 vehicles delivered. Hardly catastrophic, especially when one observes that sales of Land Rover products rose by 3.4% in spite of the above mentioned issues. The semiconductor shortage did entail back orders of 154,000 cars which could not be fulfilled by the year’s end – some 66,000 of those consisting of orders for the Defender and new-generation Range Rover alone. It is these unfulfilled orders, JLR’s CFO states, along with other restructuring costs that have delayed the carmaker from making a full financial recovery last year.
A further drag on JLR’s finances, to nobody’s surprise is that of Jaguar. Sales slumped 16% in 2021 to 86,270 cars, a matter hastened not only by an apparent collapse in demand for Jaguar’s traditional saloon offerings, but also by the announcement that all combustion-engined Jaguars are to be consigned to the history books before 2025. While it is incontrovertible that the buying public remains leery of taking a punt on Jaguar right now, a further consequence of the ongoing semiconductor shortage is that JLR is (quite logically) are prioritising high value model lines in order to obtain the biggest return possible while chip supply remains so uncertain. This means that in the queue for semiconductors, the leaping cat has been firmly consigned to the rear.
Jaguar find themselves in an invidious position. The XE and XF are as good as dead. Somewhat nebulous to begin with, their essential appeal has been stripped clean, the market having conclusively rejected them. Indeed, 2021 sales of the XE and XF across the European region (Jan-Nov totals of 1327 and 1693 respectively) can be characterised by a single word: dire.
On the other hand, the F-Pace had been Jaguar’s core seller since its 2016 launch, but the crossover’s best sales year was as long ago as 2017 (30,920 in Europe and 18,946 in the US). Four years on, and despite a creditable facelift, the F-Pace appears to have stalled (11,520 across Europe, 9512 in the US). Sales of the E-Pace crossover have also shown a sizeable dip through 2021, (14,847 across Europe), almost 50% down on the previous year.
What of the electric I-Pace, the only Jaguar model nominally at least to escape the oncoming reckoning? On sale since 2018, deliveries reached a European peak in 2020 (13,444 cars), while the US figures peaked in 2019 (2594). Last year a dispiriting 7039 were delivered across growing European EV markets, while 1409 found homes in the US. A supply or demand issue? Take your pick.
Now, as I am fond of pointing out, numbers can be something of a blunt tool, (and these are not exhaustive) but one cannot avoid the stark reality. The latterday Jaguar experiment appears to have run out of road.
Regardless of which way the cards fall now, JLR will euthanise a large proportion of Jaguar’s current offerings before the clock stops at 2025, the only question at this stage being when exactly? That is one of the questions occupying the minds of JLR’s senior management, and one very much predicated upon what decisions are taken about brand-Jaguar’s future over the coming months. After all, Mr. Bolloré needs assurances that the huge investment required to reimagine it as a more upmarket all-electric brand will not produce another litter of asthmatic kittens.
But if the tea-leaf prophecy for Jaguar is deemed unviable, what then? Who wants to be the CEO who metaphorically takes Jaguar into the backwoods and finishes it off with a pearl-handled revolver? Things could still go either way for certain, because let us not forget that too much investment has already been fruitlessly squandered under previous incumbents for history to be allowed to repeat once more, and Bolloré knows this better than most.
But to return to Mr. Cropley and his stated concerns regarding brand-Jaguar, a number of observations leap to mind. That Jaguar’s survival hangs in the balance is incontestable, but these problems did not occur either overnight or in a vacuum. The disconnection here surely is not so much that Cropley is worried, more that he chooses now to express his concern. The grim irony being that for a change perhaps, Autocar’s Editor in-chief finds himself as much in the dark as to JLR’s upcoming intentions as the rest of us.
Or maybe he’s simply assuming the brace position – just in case.
 “And I should know I’ve followed a few…”
 Furthermore, the number of trim and engine derivations was cut dramatically on both XE and XF model lines – further limiting the desirability of either model to prospective purchasers.
 US sales of the XF model in 2021 were even worse – 1194. China wasn’t too hot either – 7037 cars.
Sales of the F-Type sports model have held stable for 2021 – (Europe: 2217 Jan-Nov figures/ US: 2212) but are, like all Jaguar models, in retreat.
Sales data via carsalesbase.com/ Automotive News.