Fifteen years after buying Jaguar Cars Ltd., Ford Motor Co. is still struggling with a simple question: What is a Jaguar?
Is it an innovative car rife with technology? Or a denizen of the wood-and-leather ghetto?
Jaguar is faltering in large part because it can't resolve its identity crisis. Executives admit that Jaguar's storied past is hindering its efforts to discover its corporate soul.
The situation no longer can be ignored. Jaguar has lost an estimated $1.5 billion in the past three years, and Ford is running out of patience. A team led by Mark Fields, executive vice president in charge of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, is working to solve the crisis, which exists on three fronts:
1. The automaker is stuck between Jaguar opulence and Ford bean counting. Jaguar's XJ flagship has a cutting-edge platform but a built-to-price interior. And the X-Type is a mass-market sedan gussied up in luxury garb.
2. Jaguar's Old World heritage, particularly its curvaceous design, still moves consumers. But Mercedes, BMW and Lexus are moving ahead with daring modern styling and cutting-edge electronics.
3. As its prime competitors offer SUVs, Jaguar is wondering whether it should follow suit. Sibling Land Rover occupies that niche.
Last month Jaguar took the first step toward resolving these issues. It shut one of its three undercapacity plants - at its storied Browns Lane headquarters in Coventry, England - and abandoned a spectacularly unsuccessful Formula One racing effort.
Despite these aggressive moves, one high-ranking Ford source says, "Jaguar is still a mess."
That's where Fields comes in. At 43, he is one of Ford's fast-rising stars, known for calm in a crisis. He turned around Ford's operations in Argentina before bringing foundering Mazda Motor Corp. back into the black. But can a young fast-tracker turn around one of the most legendary brands in the industry?
Fields thinks Jaguar is already on the comeback trail.
"Jaguar has the strongest lineup it has ever had. We just need to take it to the next level," Fields says. "What I learned at Mazda is that you need to dig down to what a company does well. Don't try to invent something that you are not."