Mike Dale's decision to retire next May 1 is no surprise. The longtime chief of Jaguar in the United States will be 65 next year and wants to pursue his other passions - aviation, for one.
It's important that Jaguar, and parent Ford Motor Co., use the time to select a successor who will continue the Jaguar tradition in this country.
Dale's departure hits the British automaker at a delicate time. In June, fellow Brit Nick Scheele, Jaguar's CEO, was plucked from Coventry to lead Ford of Europe. Later that month, chief designer Geoff Lawson died unexpectedly.
Now Dale will leave. And in him, Jaguar will lose a part of its soul. His frequent references to the vision of Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons are no accident; Dale actually worked with Lyons. As an individual, Dale seems to embody the traits - smooth, elegant, understated - that mark the automobile.
As head of the U.S. operation, Dale directs not just any export market. It is by far Jaguar's biggest single market, anywhere. And it is essential to Jaguar's bold plan to quadruple volume during the next several years.
Dale ranks among the last of a breed. Since coming to this country in 1966, he has spent an entire career importing British cars. Many of those years were not pretty. He was handed the Jaguar reins nearly a decade ago, just as Ford was discovering the mess it had bought in Jaguar.
Back then, the path could not have looked thornier. No one could have predicted the industrial miracle that followed.
Jaguar's continued success will hinge on its ability to blend its rich heritage into a broader range of contemporary products. Jonathan Browning, the new head of Jaguar Cars Ltd., must be sensitive to that Jaguar tradition when he picks Dale's successor.
In the meantime, Dale should enjoy his eight-month drive into the sunset. He deserves to go out a winner.