When fleet buyer Eve Williams saw the new Jaguar X-Type at the futuristic Excel conference center, she was impressed.
Williams, a vehicle pur- chasing manager for a group of British stores, was invited to see the compact luxury sedan at a dealer preview in London's East Docklands.
The X-Type - Jaguar Cars Ltd.'s first effort to produce a mass-market sedan - will be an affordable choice for the corporate middle managers for whom Williams buys company cars.
This spring, the X-Type will compete with the likes of BMW's famed 3-series models, a prospect that delights Williams.
'At this price everybody is going to get a Jaguar,' she says. 'They'll be saying 'It's an entry-level Jaguar and it's mine!' There will be an awful lot of people who can get into that car now.'
Another industry veteran agrees. 'The X-Type will create absolute mayhem in the sector,' says Alan Myers, managing director of Emmox Carcost, a British firm that forecasts vehicle ownership costs for corporate buyers.
These early reactions encourage Jaguar executives, who are betting the company's future on this mass-market car. Jaguar's goals for sales growth are among the most ambitious in the industry's history. Jaguar expects to sell 100,000 X-Types a year by 2003. Last year, all Jaguar models combined accounted for 90,000 units, a Jaguar record. 'The X-Type is the most important product launch in Jaguar's history,' says Jonathan Browning, Jaguar's managing director. 'When you look at the X-Type, we are not just launching a new car. We are launching a new company.'
To succeed, Jaguar must ensure that its dealers are prepared to deal with a new class of customers. Simple mathematics says many X-Type customers have never owned a Jaguar. To attract this new crowd, the X-Type will have to prove itself against tough rivals such as the BMW 3 series and Mercedes C class. Other competitors include the Alfa Romeo 156, Audi A4, Lexus IS 200, Saab 9-3 and Volvo S60.
Jaguar's sales goals are daunting even to an optimist like Wolfgang Reitzle, chairman of the Premier Automotive Group, which includes Jaguar. 'It can be done, but nobody ever did it before,' said Reitzle shortly after Ford Motor Co. President Jac Nasser hired him to run the new luxury group in 1999. At the time, Jaguar sold only 50,000 cars a year. 'Keeping Jaguar's position as a top-quality brand, quadrupling sales and maintaining the high standard of service - it's a challenge, yes.'
Yin and Yang
Jaguar appealed to younger motorists in the 1960s, when its legendary E-Type roadster got rave reviews. But Jaguar owners now are overwhelmingly male and middle-aged. Before the arrival of the S-Type a couple of years ago, the typical Jaguar buyer was a male executive in his 50s. The S-Type attracted more women and more customers in their 40s. The X-Type will continue the trend. It is aimed at motorists in their 30s. 'Newer, younger customers have to be the core of the business,' Browning says.
To attract those buyers, Jaguar is changing its definition of luxury. In the past, the company relied on traditional luxuries such as sumptuous wood trim, leather interiors, elegant coachwork and a smooth ride. Now the automaker wants to challenge BMW's reputation as a technology leader.
To lure new customers, Jaguar has designed a car with features never found in a Jaguar. Foremost among those is its Trac-tion-4 all-wheel-drive system. The system distributes 60 percent of the torque to the rear wheels and 40 percent to the front. The car's onboard computers adjust the power distribution according to road conditions. The car also features two engine options: a 2.5-liter V-6 or a 3.0-liter V-6. Customers can choose a five-speed automatic transmission or a manual transmission.
Jaguar also decided to produce a vehicle suitable for daily errands. The car has generous headroom and the biggest trunk of any Jaguar. It was not an easy task to harmonize those features with traditional Jaguar styling. To do so, the X-Type's designers produced styling that is a distinct departure from previous models. The car's high rear end allows room for a larger trunk.
'Instead of a traditional low, wide Jaguar, we have a wedge shape, which works very well,' says Jaguar design director Ian Callum. 'It gives drama to the car while allowing more rear leg room and trunk space. These are not things we have had to worry about before.'
Such practical aspects of the car will win many buyers, says Susan Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Associates, a consulting firm in the U.S. city of Rutherford, New Jersey.
Moreover, the car is competitively priced. In the United Kingdom, an entry-level X-Type will sell for £22,000, while a top-of-the-line model is priced at £26,250. Jaguar has not revealed prices in other European markets, but says its U.K. prices reflect its marketing strategy.
Despite its affordable price, the car may not be practical enough. Unlike its Mercedes-Benz and BMW rivals, the X-Type does not have a diesel engine. Nigel Trotman, fleet buyer for Whitbread PLC, the English brewing company, says his company's employees prefer diesel-powered C-class and 3-series cars by a ratio of nearly 5-to-1 over cars with gasoline engines. The lack of a diesel will hurt Jaguar even more in such countries as France and Spain, where diesels dominate the market.
Jaguar officials say they will offer a diesel-powered X-Type, but they will not say when. Ford's Dagenham plant in England will begin producing diesel engines for all Ford brands in two years.
Now that the X-Type has created a more youthful image, the company's dealerships also are changing. Dealers have spent millions to give their stores a more contemporary look. Gone are the burr walnut facings on the counters. They have been replaced with cherry, a lighter wood. Also gone are the leather Chesterfield sofas, replaced by more contemporary furniture. Dealerships now have business centers where customers can use laptop computers. Each dealership will have an X-Type specialist, whose sole job will be to serve X-Type customers.
All of this preparation is a balancing act for a manufacturer with so much tradition. Jaguar must convince customers the new car is a worthy heir to the Jaguar marque and an alternative to German rivals.
'You must achieve a shape that clearly says Jaguar but meets the demands of the customers,' says Jaguar styling director Ian Callum. 'If the proportion is right it will be seen as an object of beauty. If the proportion is wrong, no amount of detailing it will transform it.'
E-mail writer Bradford Wernle at [email protected]