Jaguar Cars Ltd. is at risk of alienating its newest group of owners, many of whom complain their new X-Type sedans have an array of irritating quality snafus. While none of the problems directly affect safety or operation, they are of sufficient annoyance that some first-time Jaguar buyers say they're ready to bolt the franchise.
"I am very frustrated at Jaguar's lack of interest in solving this problem," said Mike Price, a 58-year old retiree from New Orleans.
"There has been no follow-up by either Jaguar or my dealer on this matter," he said.
The issue could have a harmful effect on the automaker, which is trying to grow from a small-time player to one that sells 200,000 units annually, with the X-Type accounting for half of those sales. Reaching that goal requires not only winning new buyers but retaining them. Being the highest-volume nameplate, the X-Type is Jaguar's broadest-brush effort to reach the consumer buying a luxury label for the first time.
"I can't think of a carmaker that doesn't have an occasional glitch in their new models," said Charlie Moss, an independent industry analyst in London. "A drivetrain noise isn't the same as people being stranded or killed, but what they do about it is still very important.
"Jaguar can be the greatest friend these consumers ever had, and the people will love them for being really super about how well they are treated. The alternative is for people to be sick of the product and say, 'Next time, I'll buy an Audi.' "
Jaguar: Problem 'cured'
Jaguar spokesman Colin Cook said the automaker became aware of the problem in January. He said a fix was engineered within eight weeks. "We've obviously taken steps to rectify the problem with customers as well as in the production process," Cook said. "We put a process change in manufacturing, and that has cured the problem."
There are two separate drivetrain problems. During deceleration from about 70 mph, a high-pitched whine will come from the all-wheel-drive differential unit. That problem is so widespread that Jaguar has issued a technical service bulletin to its U.S. dealers.
The fix: adding mass to the differential-mounting bracket.
But the cold weather noise is another matter. It occurs anywhere from 20 mph to 70 mph. For some owners it goes away quickly; others have the tuning-fork sound ringing for minutes at a time.
This problem has been the most bothersome to owners because Jaguar Cars has not officially acknowledged it exists.
Some owners say they have had several prop-shafts replaced under warranty - one American owner says he is on his sixth.
Steven Miller, a 41-year-old attorney from Long Beach, N.Y., suffers from both drivetrain problems. While he says he loves his X-Type, Miller is frustrated by his dealer's inability to repair the problems, despite three visits to the service bay. "I made a tape recording of the noise," Miller said. "The attempted fix was to put some sort of additive into the all-wheel-drive system. This quieted the noise for several days, then it came back."
According to Jaguar service technicians, there are two explanations for the noise. One is that the rubber bushing in the prop-shaft hardens in cold weather and squeaks when it rubs against moving parts. The other is that the center bearing in the prop-shaft is slightly off-center, and the cold temperature keeps the grease from heating adequately to insulate the metal-on-metal contact.
Said Cook: "We certainly do extensive cold weather testing, but obviously this wasn't picked up. It's something that comes to light when you build thousands of cars, rather than hundreds. It affects a very small minority of the cars under certain conditions."
Jon Kennedy, a 41-year-old registered nurse in Charlotte, N.C., says he has had his prop-shaft replaced twice, with two different part numbers listed on his repair orders.
But the prop-shaft is only one of several problems Kennedy cites, including a rocking driver seat, weeping windshield washer nozzles, vibration from the tires above 45 mph, and an apparent knocking from the CV joints when turning.
"It seems to me that Jaguar doesn't know how to handle my problems, and it's taken them a long time to get this under control," Kennedy said. "I'm trying to give the dealer every reasonable chance to deal with this, but the general manager knows this is their last chance."
The X-Type driveshaft and half-shafts are supplied by GKN Hardy Spicer in Birmingham, England. GKN declined to comment for this article. Within a couple of years of purchasing Jaguar, Ford Motor Co. claimed it had banished quality glitches to the past. Jaguar's quality scores in the J.D. Power indices soared from below average to the top tier. Many of the X-Type customers are buying their first luxury car and are bristling that a luxury carmaker can't solve the problem on its first attempt.
None of the customers interviewed for this article said they had been contacted by a Jaguar representative.
Said Moss: "If you insult one customer, you lose 25 of his friends down at the country club. And Jaguar is still considered a risky purchase."