KESWICK, Va. - Jaguar, it seems, has endured more than nine lives worth of toil and trouble in the five years since Ford Motor Co. bought the legendary British marque.
But as a new ad slogan says, that is history. Last week, Jaguar introduced a new XJ sedan series, the first car developed under Ford. With it, Jaguar has declared the worst is over. Its future is now in the hands of the marketplace.
'The questions about whether Jaguar are going to survive will be clearly answered in the next 12 months,' says Mike Dale, the 59-year-old president of the U.S. subsidiary. Now, after more than $4*billion invested by Ford, Dale declares that profits are 'in sight.'
The XJ sedans, which now range from $53,450 to $77,250, account for about 80 percent of Jaguar's volume. The balance goes to the ancient XJS coupes and convertibles, which range from $53,400 to $82,550. They'll be redesigned in about two years.
SMALL CAR AWAITS OK
Jaguar will have to rely on those two lines for another four years or so. That is when the next Jaguar - a smaller, less expensive car to battle the likes of the Lexus ES 300 - is due.
The small-car project still needs Ford approval. It would be built from the same platform, code-named DEW98, that is expected to carry a range of Fords, such as the Taurus and Crown Victoria, into the next century. The Jaguar version could even be built in the United States, though Jaguar would prefer to build it in Britain.
The little car will provide its own challenge: preserving the essence of Jaguar on a Ford platform. But the new XJ series drew much more from Ford's product development processes than its parts bin. It does have a Nippondenso air conditioner sourced through Ford's purchasing channels. The traction control system came via Ford's Mondeo program.
Though it follows the same design inside and out, the new XJ series marks an obvious leap over the old car. The interior touches of a $10,000 subcompact are gone. The seat controls are much friendlier to owners - average age 48 - who aren't contortionists. Overall, Jaguar has added 2,000 new parts.
SWIFT 32 MONTHS
The new XJ's arrival marked the first time Jaguar had introduced cars simultaneously in Europe and the United States.
Jim Padilla, the Ford engineer who was sent to England two years ago to bring the project together, says Jaguar had missed every launch target in the previous five years. 'Our goal was to get a mindset that says, 'Goddamn it, we're going to make it,' ' Padilla says. And Jaguar did, in a swift 32 months, for a $250 million price tag. Ford operations around the world served as benchmarks.
In addition, says David Scholes, program manager for the new XJ series, Ford had far more data on the competition than Jaguar had. The numbers documented how far Jaguar lagged the rest of the world in quality.
Jaguar dealers had griped about it for years, Scholes says. The company tended to dismiss them as typical dealer complaints.
Even before the new XJ's arrival, things have been looking up for Jaguar. It has climbed from nowhere to rank among the top 10 in J.D. Power and Associates' customer satisfaction and sales satisfaction surveys.
Three years ago, Jaguar didn't offer leases. But it has borrowed expertise from Lincoln with a vengeance. Now, about four of every five Jaguars are leased. Jaguar finished first in a new J.D. Power survey on lease satisfaction.
Sales have risen, too. Jaguar's U.S. volume rose 47 percent last year, to 12,734, and was up another 22 percent through August.
Quality is another matter. Though Jaguar has made great strides, it still ranks below average on J.D. Power's initial quality survey. The new XJ line, officials say, met its goal of being better than the car it replaces.
Still ahead: another mountain. 'Lexus has the best quality in the world,' concedes Scholes. 'We want to match it.'