Mike O'Driscoll faces an executive's toughest task: replacing a living legend. After 42 years at Jaguar, Mike Dale stepped down in May as president of Jaguar Cars North America, leaving the top spot to O'Driscoll.
O'Driscoll, 44, came from Lincoln Mercury, where he was the Washington, D.C., regional manager. Before that, though, he had spent 20 years at Jaguar, peaking as U.S. general sales manager. And he has British Racing Green in his blood - he grew up in Coventry, England, Jaguar's hometown.
Given that pedigree, O'Driscoll has a fair shot at convincing dealers that he is a legitimate steward for the Jaguar brand. He has been active since taking over: Even though Jaguar traditionally has been known as an older buyer's brand, O'Driscoll has been on a youth hiring movement.
And he is part of the global team coordinating the launch of the X400, Jaguar's answer to the BMW 3 series.
At Jaguar's 2001 product presentation to the media in Pasadena, Calif., O'Driscoll spoke with Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin about the challenges ahead.
What has it been like taking over from Mike Dale?
I have different challenges. Many of Mike's challenges were about survival of Jaguar, whereas mine are more about growth.
I've taken over at a critical point in our development, not just in North America but also globally. We are on the brink of tremendous growth, perhaps fourfold in as many years. I think about what we are trying to do, compared with the time that it took BMW and Mercedes-Benz to grow their volumes. I want to put in place an organization and infrastructure, both internally and with the dealers, to deal with this sort of scale-shift.
If we take the personalities out of it, what I'm entrusted with is growing the North American business and transitioning our brand toward appealing to a younger and more diverse audience. We will always be aspirational; we're trying to make it more accessible.
Can you do that? Aren't those ideas mutually exclusive?
Yes we can, when put in the context of the overall luxury market and the volumes our competitors are selling. We're aiming at 75,000 cars per year, not 140,000 or 190,000, so there are still fewer Jaguars on the road. Each car is individually developed for a specific segment, not as a smaller or larger version of essentially the same concept. They have their own character. And the X400 will have that same individuality, character and excitement that ensures it will always be a Jaguar. When people see it, it's instantly recognized as a Jaguar and has all the credibility.
Why sell the X400 only with all-wheel drive?
There is plenty of market research to show that it's desirable. From a technical viewpoint, we are very excited about the X400 in its totality. It is about what all-wheel drive delivers, not in its installation per se but in terms of the increased grip, handling and agility. It's about the demonstrable effect of all-wheel drive, not its installation as a component. The lead story about X400 is not that it has all-wheel drive, but that it's an agile and exciting sports sedan.
Has the X400 been delayed? Is that why it wasn't shown at Birmingham?
No, that was a myth. We always planned to show it at Geneva. But after the S-Type was shown at Birmingham, some people incorrectly assumed we would show the X400 there as well.
The X400 is one of 14 new or redesigned Jaguar products to come over the next three years. That includes 'R' editions, correct?
Yes, that counts 'R' versions, but paint and trim packages do not count as part of that 14. We're talking about new or substantially changed products that go beyond the XJ, XK, S-Type and X400.
Does that include a sport-utility?
What about a sport wagon, such as the Volvo V70 Cross Country?
That is not an area we are looking into at the moment. We know who we are, and so many companies are forgetting who they are. We are about beautiful high-performance cars. And in the past, we didn't have the money to do what we needed to do. The X400 is the cornerstone of our rebuilding phase.
It's fair to say that we are reinvigorating the performance spirit within the Jaguar marque that for many years was relatively diffused. From 1975-1995 we sold the XJ and XJS with an emphasis on prestige and elegance. We need to re-establish our performance roots and heritage with a return to the racetracks. We need to have high-performance 'R' derivatives of all our models, with the options and accessories to exploit the full potential our cars have.
How does this all mesh with the strategies of the Ford Premier Automotive Group?
It is essential to retain brand integrity. We have to draw a line in the sand. We can have common componentry and systems where it makes sense, but we need to have unique customer interfaces. We want to give each other the space to develop our own brands individually. We are having quarterly meetings to determine who's on first.
Does this increased product count and sales target mean that you need more dealers?
I see a limited expansion of our dealers. At present we have 140 dealers in the U.S., and I expect that to grow to about 165 over the next three years. Some of that will be growth within the existing metro markets that can substantiate more dealers, but some of it will be new points in areas where Jaguar has not been represented.
What about increased advertising spending?
Everything we are doing is carefully calculated toward moving the Jaguar brand toward a wider marketplace. But I am always bemused by auto executives talking about their marketing plans in advance. So I don't want to talk about budgets. I'd rather people see it when it happens. We are going to be in new and surprising places.
What is the schedule for Jaguar's relocation to Southern California?
Aug. 1, 2001, is the move-in date. About one-third of the staff will be based in Irvine. I can't say what percent will relocate yet, as employees have until the end of October to decide whether they want to move. So that's a rather delicate situation.