LOS ANGELES -- Mike O'Driscoll calls it the "democratization of luxury," the notion that luxury need no longer be exclusive.
If that sounds counter-intuitive, it is. But as president of the Aston Martin Jaguar Land Rover North America grouping within Ford Motor Co.'s Premier Automotive Group, O'Driscoll is charged with making the evident contradiction work as a viable business case.
With the Jaguar X-Type sedan, which starts at under $30,000, and the Land Rover Freelander, at $25,600, O'Driscoll is the point man for Ford's multi-billion-dollar gamble that a luxury brand can be extended downward without diminishing its inherent value.
At stake for O'Driscoll and other chiefs moving downmarket: Whether premium pricing - and premium profits - can be maintained for the rest of the lineup.
"Ten, 15 years ago, you didn't see BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Jaguar badges on driveways in many small towns in America. Now it's almost commonplace," O'Driscoll said in an interview earlier this year at PAG headquarters in suburban Irvine, Calif.
"We're no longer simply aspirational. We're a lot more accessible. Our products are appealing to younger people. Nine out of 10 X-Type customers are new to the Jaguar brand. We're democratizing luxury."
Jaguar and O'Driscoll are not alone. In a quest to bring younger drivers into the tent - hopefully for life - and to build higher volumes, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Volvo either have introduced models priced under $30,000 or have them in the pipeline.
On one level, the X-Type seems to be doing its job by igniting Jaguar's U.S. fortunes. Through May, Jaguar's U.S. sales are up 62 percent from the year-ago period to 27,246 units, and the company expects to top 75,000 for the year, up from about 44,500 last year.
But the X-Type accounts for 16,171 units, or 59 percent, of the total through May, while sales of its siblings have fallen. For example, the S-Type is off 45.9 percent, to 5,820 units.
That erosion of higher-priced sales underscores the folly of trying to democratize luxury, analysts and academic experts say.
"Jaguar sees quick money to be made in diluting the brand, and they don't see the long-term problem," warns Jim Twitchell, a University of Florida professor of English and advertising, and a specialist in luxury branding.
"The promise of luxury is that you cannot go above it, which is why you don't want to go down-market. They are taking a great brand story and (squandering) it away."