A Golden Fleecing

Ninth-life expired?

Image: drivespark.com

My mood, like the weather, was drab. My eyes searched in vain for a hint of colour, something other than the pervasive and oppressive greyscale of an English January day, to lift the spirits and provide some inspiration. Jaded, yet ever hopeful, as Shank’s Pony took me hastily back to work to consume my lunch, there in my gaze lay a sorry sight. It was as lacking in vitality as your author at that moment, so one had to check twice to ascertain that the creature still lived. 

Approaching closer, one could feel the residual heat from the front grille – there was life but you’d be hard pressed to define the quality therein. This particular creature was in Portofino Blue, unusually clean for the time of year, but unprepossessing in its inky darkness. An absence of brightwork, black wheels and an interior familiar to coal-miners were meant to signify purposeful aggression, but all I saw was bleakness.

My senses sought a pulse, which I found in the form of bright red brake calipers; a trace of systolic pressure, yet relieving little of the car’s morbidity. Is this how it really ends, when understatement turns to near-invisibility?

Much has been written about the Jaguar XE, not least on these pages. It did not enjoy an auspicious start and the prognosis is now grave, if not terminal, the cold, hard facts being thus: in 2021, just 1,943(1) found buyers in Europe, and a barely believable 211 in the United States. Only the Chinese market shows significant, if modest, signs of life, with 10,497 locally built long-wheelbase XEL variants sold in the same year.

April 2022 sees the XE enter its seventh year. With just thirty-six months to go before Thierry Bolloré inters the always underwhelming Ingenium engine and switches over to electrical propulsion, is it already time to switch off the life-support?

Image: drivespark.com

We must delve deeper into the big cat’s lair to find answers to our questions, the first being does this look a £30,000 car? Your author expects a Jaguar neither to screech like an alley cat nor skulk unseen into the night. The XE seems sadly predisposed to the latter, lacking the requisite courage to stand and fight. Its ungraciously generic stance lacks the sinuous fluidity one expects of a car born in Browns Lane.

Now limping painfully, yet the automotive press still hold a candle for this wounded creature. Always regarded favourably in terms of panache and drive, the XE can still give the Germans some food for thought on their premium car hegemony, at least when taking them on individually, when it resembles a 1970s action film hero whom the bad guys obligingly attack one at a time.

In base trim, Ingolstadt’s A4 looks decent enough; barely aggressive and a modicum up from bland, albeit peerlessly executed. The Bavarians have entered the realm of Proboscis Maximus, which seems not to affect their sales a jot. Don’t buyers actually look at their prospective purchases any more? Stuttgart’s take on the compact executive sedan may be less overwrought these days, now verging on the bland but, like BMW, its the badge that sells. The XE counters with finely honed dynamic qualities, but all the sporting intent in the world clearly isn’t enough to tempt those predisposed toward the Germanic offerings. 

Image: jaguarchandler.com

The cul-de-sac we find ourselves in isn’t just styling: what about price, then? Paring back to the bones, the A4 Technik 35 TFSi S-tronic(2) has a 1,984cc petrol four-pot with 150bhp for £33,000. The BMW 318i M Sport Saloon gives you 156bhp for your £35,000 whereas, with Mercedes, the entry price jumps to £39,000. Such outlay brings a C200 Sport Saloon with a 204bhp petrol unit, with additional 20 horses from hybrid intervention.

The XE is cheapest, from a smidge over £30k, for which you get the same bhp as Stuttgart’s offering, albeit from a two-litre diesel. Returning to my first posited question, no, the Jag does not look like a car of that price bracket, but does any of them? Paint them all white (at no extra cost) and it’s a struggle to determine anything that stands out, other than the BMW’s snout and the relentless conformity.

Inside, we find that all four manufacturers have taken a somewhat sombre approach to interiors. Blacks and greys, with a smattering of silver garnish, is hardly the embodiment of what’s alluded to in the glossy, aspirational advertising. The C is a reduced S, with lots of shiny ornaments but little in the way of heft or depth. The A4 hardly sets any design benchmarks, either, but is well put together. Let’s not be self-righteous – it’s much the same with Callum’s moggy, with a little less mer noire and the novelty of a circular steering device.

Long gone is the time when the mere mention of such exalted names as these would garner coos of appreciation or inveterate nods of approval. That was before the likes of leasing deals and personal contract purchase schemes steamrolled in. Jaguar to some (ok, me) retains that caddish charm and I genuinely believed that the Leaping Cat still held some sway in matters of motoring. 

Image:reedmantolljaguar

I was quickly disabused of that notion on returning to the staff room to consume my lunch: I had entered a tom-cat fight. The main protagonist, let’s call him TC(3), was holding court, pronouncing his new black 3 Series M340d X-drive “the best car ever.” Immediately, Benny the Ball retorted that his A4 (no specific model mentioned) was “far better” while Choo-Choo insisted that, you’ve guessed it, his Mercedes-Benz C-Class “ran rings round them all.” How tedious: at least they’re driving saloons, I suppose. Spook, Brain and Fancy-Fancy weighed in and goaded the protagonists further.

Allowing the bile to simmer, the exchange degenerated into a stereotypical slanging match, distanced from any form of believable context. Paying “under £500 a month and it pisses over the others,” was TC’s eloquent coup de grâce, apparently.

Utilising a natural lull in this cat-scrap, I entered the fray as guileless Officer Dibble, throwing the apparently indefensible, home-grown Jaguar XE into the the midst of the flying fur. TC looked askance: “They don’t make a small saloon,” he asserted with some vehemence. The remaining alley cats jumped to his cause with their cries that Jaguar only made “bigger, more expensive stuff.”

The smartphone rescued me from my misguided manoeuvre, firstly with a picture of the XE, immediately judged “crap” by the entire gang, followed by an unanticipated but exceptionally well timed phone call that enabled my swift extraction from the baying pack. Thus, it is proved: Jaguar really doesn’t produce a small saloon, and anything resembling an aspirational four-door, three-box shape now derives from Germany. Enough said.

Which may well be it for the cat in question. How sad.

 

(1) Sales data from http://www.carsalesbase.com. The European sales figure excludes December 2021.

(2) That’s easy for you to say!

(3) Our younger readers may not be familiar with the cast of Top Cat, an American children’s cartoon from the 1960’s.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

22 thoughts on “A Golden Fleecing”

  1. The XE is too exclusive to compete in this market. Too few of the prospective buyers know it and the ones who do are faced with a starting price of € 59k on the Dutch market. An XF is only € 6k more. The A4 and 3 series can be had just below € 46k, while the Benz starts just over € 50k. The Jag may be better equipped, but does this justify the price?

    I kind of like the XE, but like the Giulia I wouldn’t buy one new as I am sure they depreciate quickly. Second hand? Not too sure about that either, as both brands don’t have the best of reputation and there are not that many Jaguar dealers around here either, so servicing might be a bit of a pain, depending on where you live. With sales so poor it’s only a matter of time before some of them will call it a day.

  2. VDJL, the Association of German Jaguar and Land Rover dealers ran a survey among its members in late 2021. Dealers could evaluate the importer on a scale from 1 (best) to 6 (worst). The result was an average of 5.09 to 5.48.
    Worst result was availability of cars (5.48) the best was communication (5.09). The biggest points of complaint were marketing campaigns and product variations that completely missed the market and non-reaction to urgent problems. Sales numbers were 8,000 per year in the country against predicted 30,000. Dealers had invested a combined 180 million Euros and see themselves deprived of the whole business base. Jaguar is already losing the best dealers because of this situation.

    I am lucky to have this one down the road from me with plenty of their own cars driving around on number plates like F-JD, F-LR and F-AM but the only ones you see in private hands are LR and there are more AM than J.

  3. Good morning, Andrew. What depressing, if sharply observed, encounters, both with the XE and your colleagues. The childish pi**ing contest you describe reduces the cars to mere trinkets, which is what they are these days, I suppose. A more thoughtful and informed discussion would acknowledge, compare and contrast their individual characteristics and qualities, rather than a vacuous ‘winner-takes-all’ knockout bout.

    Regarding the XE, it’s not an unpleasant looking car and in the right colour with brightwork, it can look well, but its form is far too bland and generic to carry off the ‘stealth’ look convincingly, particularly in the ‘not-quite-black’ colour of your example.

    As to is future, well, it doesn’t have one.

  4. Good Morning Andrew
    Pleased to see you bringing Top Cat into your article. Happy memories! Unfortunately the motoring world has moved on and it appears that Jaguar , and others, have been caught asleep at the wheel. Often that ends in a crash with damage resulting. Sometimes it can be terminal…

  5. Morning Andrew. Oh the days of watching Top Cat as a child. The XE’s predecessor, the X Type, although some would argue it was just a redesigned Mondeo, which it was, at least you could tell at first glance it was a Jaguar, can’t say the same of the XE, or even the rest of the range. Bring back the proper 3 box saloon of the XJ.

  6. Was there ever a serious intent to sell these cars? Considering the negligible and unimaginative advertising, I don’t think so. The same goes for the rest of the Jaguar range in contrast to Land Rover.

  7. The main point might have been made (by Dave amongst others) in the comments on the Giulia article: cars in this class are almost exclusively procured through lease contracts where the true customer is the manager, not the driver. Add to that the fact that most drivers (including me, probably) don’t really know how to distinguish an adequate chassis from a great one. Jaguar and Alfa (and Infiniti) simply lack the infrastructure to make a cost-competitive case to a fleet manager, hence they loose.

    It’s always seemed to me that the average (private) buyer of an Alfa or Jaguar could afford one of the German Big Three cars from a class higher than the Alfa or Jag they’ve actually purchased (so a 3 series instead of a Giulietta, a 5 series instead of an XE of Giulia) but chose the other car out of passion (or contrariness). That’s not a big market in the best of circumstances.

    The XE itself is oddly underwhelming as well, as Daniel attests, as ultimately is the Giulia. The 156 was so pretty its looks could silence the office pissing brigade, the XE and Giulia aren’t. The first-gen XF looks better to me, if already on the bland side.

    It’s a design language that works reasonably well on one car, but probably should have been developed further for the second generation. Instead, Jaguar tried to stretch the same theme (and possibly, engineering resources) across two cars, ending up with the current XE and XF. Alfa and Jag are niche brands these days, even more than they were. I don’t know how to make that a profitable proposition, but exactly that is the puzzle JLR and Stellantis need to solve. At least Stellantis has the benefit of a more or less mass-market presence where a little extra pizzazz might be enough to make some version of Alfa work (though one that will probably disgust enthusiasts). JLR doesn’t even have that.

    1. There’s more than a whiff of irony to the fact that (now former) Jaguar designers used to blame the current XF/XE’s blandness on the fact that they were forced into the fleet car straightjacket by (then-)management…

    2. I didn’t know that, that is painful and indicative of the unrealistic expectations of the management. As long as these fleet contracts remain the norm, any smaller manufacturer will probably have to rely on private buyers, which seems to be a disappearing market. Unless you build million-dollar exotic and electric supercars of course.

  8. Surely these days it’s all down to resale value after three years, since that determines lease rates? And that’s where Jaguar are beaten ?

  9. I think the view given here about the XE’s looks are a little harsh. It’s a handsome thing and very correct. Sure, it’s no 1968 XJ, but nothing else is either. I rate it as better looking than the German trio, and less emotionally alluring than the Giulia (which is good looking, but no 156 as Tom V points out. I also agree with his view that, although it’s a handsome car, it’s not beautiful or striking enough to provide a reason on that basis alone to attract buyers in the way that the original business plan demanded. Add the fact that it come only as a saloon, with no ‘wagon, coupe and convertible derivations, and the basic appeal of the core product is just not there in sufficient amounts.

    From a pricing perspective (in the UK at least), it seems well pitched when looked at in cold isolation. However, because the XE has the strong whiff of failure and certain near-term death around it, that pricing looks like recognition of itself of the lack of demand for car. So, actually, for someone who cares little about such things, buying a new XE now as a keeper (i.e. no worries about depreciation) looks like a very good deal. It’s biggest problem is that the more extensively revamped XF is not that much more expensive and represents an even better deal.

    1. Sorry, terrible grammar and sentence construction in that comment. Msut try hardre.

  10. Some interesting numbers there. As only China seems to be interested in Jaguar saloons, would the brand fare better under Chinese ownership?

    There is a recent example of what can be achieved. MG under SAIC was regarded for years as a laughing stock, an opportunist no-hoper. Then it found its place, exported to the right territories and is selling serous numbers: 379,171 total production in 2021, 30,600 cars sold in the UK in 2021, ahead of Citroën, Renault, Suzuki, Mazda, Dacia, and Honda.

    1. That makes it similar to Buick then.
      Didn´t we discuss a Chinese car company that failed to make very many sales? This was about four or five years ago… is it still around?
      The XE is a decent looking car among a lot of cars that irritate and grate. Plainly reasonable quality and distinction don´t count for much. The market really has changed in such a way as to change the products too. It is time to reconsider the demise of the quirkier brands and quirkiness in general. For one thing, although individualism seems to be a strong characteristic of modern society it is tempered with caution and tight-fistedness. When people earned a lot less than they do now (incomes have grown alot since the 1960s, say, and society is supposedly richer) they were willing to pony up for interesting and money-losing cars from Lancia, Citroen, Alfa etc. Today, much less so. You might think a richer society would be more willing to take a punt on a depreciating asset like a Jaguar. This tale also suggests that the EU market has reached a stage similar to the US in the 1960s where most independents were out for the count and a few dominant players had a kind of quasi-monopoly. It´s not as bad as GM, FoMoCo and Chrysler´s stitch up but on the way: BMW group, VAG, Mercedes, and Stellantis have much of the market covered. GM is gone (isn´t that something) and the market is not functioning as it should with smaller players getting a more proportional amount of sales than they do now. I mean that a small deficiency in some regard leads to a small loss of sales; modest superiority leads to a modest sales boost.

    2. Interesting points. I think the Jaguar’s problem is that although it’s a very nice car, it doesn’t really have anything to make it stand out and the range is small. It will also be relatively expensive to lease and fleet managers – the main buyers of these vehicles – won’t like that, which limits sales. That results in a vicious circle; lower sales equals less investment and so on.

      The EU is a mature market – a wealthy one, but also a difficult one to operate in due to the sophistication of its consumers and their demands for safety, vehicle performance and longevity, etc. Quirkiness is great, but the days of people putting up with cars which are temperamental and fall apart, are over.

      Further, although society is richer, most people buy compact cars, second hand. No one has money to burn, it just means that more people have a higher standard of living in general – they have reasonable cars, infotainment, domestic appliances, access to leisure activities, etc.

      The rationalization which has happened in the car market has also taken place in other industries such as aviation. That said, the vehicle market isn’t impossible to break in to, as long as a manufacturer has something new to offer, like Tesla, which brings me back round to my first point. Jaguar, or any business – needs to serve a specific need or desire to survive. If it doesn’t, it won’t. I wonder what Tata, JLR’s owner, thinks; perhaps they’re working on it and we’ll be surprised by Jaguar’s re-birth.

    3. Buick still sells reasonably well in its’ historic home market, the Encore (Mokka) having been something of a sleeper hit and only now being phased out in favor of the second-gen post-Opel-selloff model (badged Encore GX to disambiguate). Still, Buick-Cadillac-GMC dealers are heavily dependent on GMC pickups and the sales boost they’ve gotten from the latest Chevy Silverado’s controversial styling.

    4. Hi nlpnt, To look at Buick’s US sales numbers and market share since 1999, one could say that the glass is half full. And that would be great news for GM’s partner SAIC, who sold zero cars in North America in 1999. To put it another way, Buick is America’s MG. The only Buick made in Lansing: the Encore, sells at a rate of 0.9 White Hens (the DTW unit of eternal optimism).

  11. I wouln’t mind one at all,but it has two minuses:

    The interior is utterly bland: surely a bit of timber, even if faux, would be in keeping. As it is, it might as well be saying: “This could be a Merc, but you know it’s not.”

    And from the rear window to the end says it’s a DB4 (non-Zagato).

  12. I have a strong memory of the moment I realised just how badly conceived the XE (and perhaps by extension the rest of the current Jaguar range) is when a friend and I encountered one whilst out walking. I forget the exact wording of my friend’s comment as he looked at the XE (and it would lose something in translation) but it was along the lines of ‘What the hell have Jaguar done to themselves?’

    The friend in question is not a car enthusiast but has a well-formed impression of what a Jaguar should be; the XE is far from that.

  13. The XE was discontinued in the United States market after the 2020 model year – all 211 sold in calendar year 2021 are carryover inventory. This, one can only hope, will make the 2020 cars, with their one-year-only mid-cycle refreshed styling, future collectors’ items, but somehow I doubt it.

    I am a Jaguar evangelist but I never meet with much success. I think the general impression among American car enthusiasts is that the marque is an also-ran in its own company with a grim future, especially considering the lack of concrete information about any next-generation electric cars (no prototype photos, planted rumors in magazines, or concept cars) that are supposedly only a few years away. My local JLR dealer sells four Land Rovers for every Jaguar.

    My thoughts on the XE track closely with what Andrew and the commentators have already said. I think the styling of the XE succeeds – it cleanly integrates all of Ian Callum’s trademarks into the three-box shape (long dash-to-axle distance, vented front wings, multi-surfaced hood, sculpted rear fenders with a bit of ‘tuck-in’ behind the rear wheels). In reality, though, its restraint in design is not a selling point against the German competition, and the car is in the wrong segment to compete primarily as an ‘enthusiast’s choice’ (as Tom V. pointed out).

    I do think the XE and XF both suffer from being too similar to one another in styling, size, price, and performance (the engine range is shared completely between the two cars – all the Germans offer a unique engine at the top of the range in their E-segment car). I own a 2018 XF and I still can’t easily tell the XE from XF when I see others on the road. I might also agree with Tom that the first-generation XF design will likely age better as that car was not subject to the same level of cost-cutting (no hood shut-line separate from the grille on the first-generation car!).

  14. In this imagined Top Cat scenario – which of the gang chose the Tesla Model 3? Looking at the UK sales charts for last year, perhaps most of them. It was the second-best selling car (34783 units), behind only the Vauxhall Corsa, in 2021.

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