Jaguar has entered the business-fleet market for the first time with a new entry-level X-type.
Based on recent sales figures, the X-type needs the boost.
Though launched just last year, sales of the X-type fell quickly in Europe. Since peaking at 4,251 units last September, the X-type saw a steady downward trend through February. But sales improved when the new entry-level X-type was launched in March.
In the meantime, the US market made up for those slowing European sales, thanks to increased advertising and subsidized lease deals.
But until March, combined European and US sales had not approached the rate necessary to achieve Jaguar's target of 100,000 X-types this year. Jaguar expects 90 percent of those sales to come from Europe and the USA.
Officially called the X-Type 2 litre V6, the new entry-level model is Jaguar's first front-wheel-drive car. The rest of the X-type lineup is all-wheel drive. All previous Jaguars have been rear-wheel drive.
In the UK, X-Type 2 litre V6 prices begin at £19,995 (E32,590). The base price includes fog lamps, climate control, 16-inch alloys, security system, antilock brakes and traction control. But features such as leather seats and cruise control are extra.
Executives believe Jaguar must have more mass-market appeal if it is to reach its sales target of 200,000 units across the range by 2004.
'We've always had to conquest buyers away from BMW and Mercedes with the XJ, XK and even the S-type,' says Mike Beasley, Jaguar managing director. 'Now, with the X-type, we can start to suck people out of the volume-car market. Once you have someone in a Jaguar, you can move them up.'
Beasley and Jaguar engineers won't say how much of the X-Type 2 litre V6 is shared with the Ford Mondeo, which is also front-wheel drive. Much of the Ford chassis and suspension pieces were reworked for the Jaguar, but the two models share many modules and components, Jaguar acknowledges.
Jaguar is part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group of luxury brands that also includes Aston Martin, Land Rover, Volvo and Lincoln.
X-type principal engineer David Hopkin says Jaguar tried to make the front-wheel-drive version handle like the more expensive all-wheel-drive X-type.
But there is a limit to how much tuning can counteract understeer induced by the new car's front-heavy 61-39 weight distribution, he says. The entry-level X-type's engine - actually 2.1-liters in displacement - is based on the 2.5-liter V-6, but has a shorter stroke. It generates 157hp and 200Nm of torque.
There are new connecting rods, crankshaft, pistons, oil sump, inlet manifold and camshaft, and hydraulic variable-cam timing, but the 2.1-liter is 'pretty much the same' as the 2.5-liter V-6, Hopkin says.
Already, Jaguar executives are rethinking the X-type design process.
'We followed the [BMW] 3 series too closely in terms of packaging, use of interior plastics and craftsmanship,' says Beasley.
Jaguar can re-examine materials and craftsmanship in a mid-cycle change, but the X-type's cramped rear-seat layout can't be changed until a full redesign in five years.
Jaguar also unveiled mid-cycle changes to the S-type sedan. It will reduce the S-type entry price to £24,950 in the UK by adding a smaller, 2.5-liter V-6 version. The V-8 engine size is increased to 4.2-liters. And a new supercharged V-8 model with 400hp is £47,400 in the UK.