NEWS ANALYSIS: Bland cars, lack of focus doomed Ford luxury arm

Ford Motor failed with its Premier Automotive Group because it did not launch cars that were exciting enough to compete with rivals in the luxury sector.

It also failed to extract the synergies from the brands needed to better compete against BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

Now only Volvo remains, following the sale of Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin over the past two years.

“Overall, Ford will be seen as an owner which did its best but was not good enough,” said automotive academic Garel Rhys.

The key problem was Ford did not know what to do with the PAG brands, said Rhys.

“They did not know whether to keep the brands together and attack BMW and Mercedes or keep them as separate as possible,” he said. “By the time they had worked out what they wanted to do, it was too late.”

John Wormald, partner at consultants Autopolis, agrees. “The whole of PAG was a ragbag,” he said. “Jaguar is one distinctive brand, Volvo has its own company history and Land Rover is something completely different.”

Added Wormald: “Ford has difficulty dealing with other company cultures. PAG -- what was it?”

Ford didn’t overcome a range of problems with the brands. It needed to create more synergies and use more common components, but still keep the brands distinct.

Ford also spent too long introducing new models, and when it did, they did not grab the market, said Rhys, who recently retired as director of the Centre of Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff Business School in Wales.

Analysts and company insiders agree that many of the products launched by Jaguar in recent years were not good enough.

The X-Type was too bland, and did not have the presence of the Mercedes C class, Audi A4 or BMW 3 series, Rhys said. Jaguars such as the S-Type aged rapidly and many buyers shunned the XJ because it looked too much like Jaguars from the 1970s.

There was a similar problem at Land Rover, although its product range is now doing very well. The brand had record sales in 2007.

Wormald also said Jaguar should have moved more aggressively into continental Europe, while Land Rover should have started production in the key North American market to offset currency risks.

A senior Jaguar manager, who asked not to be named, said Ford had been a good owner to begin with by sharing resources and improving quality.

“But it started to go wrong when there was a push for growth, the expectation that we were suddenly going to leap to BMW volumes,” he said.

The movement of Jaguar production to the former Ford Escort factory at Halewood in northwest England brought huge costs.

“We suddenly had an overhead which was not sustainable,” the source said. “The people at Halewood did a great job in turning it around, but it was too big a plant to sustain. If you are not making a lot of cars, it is a big cost.”

In addition to old-fashioned styling that didn’t catch on, there was the problem of diesel engines for Jaguar.

“We should have had diesels at least five to seven years before we did, “ the senior Jaguar manager told Automotive News Europe.

Company insiders wonder whether Jaguar could have grown out of its troubles years ago with a sports car rather than the unsuccessful Ford Mondeo based X-Type.

Jaguar showed an F-Type concept roadster at the 2000 Detroit auto show, but the vehicle never went into production.

“The F-Type would have put stuff in the brand bank, but would it pay its way?” the Jaguar executive said.

It will now be up to Tata to make the final decisions on new products.

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