Jaguar Land Rover dealers begin 2021 with an armada of fresh vehicles either on sale now or en route for a first-quarter showroom debut. The redesigned Land Rover Defender that arrived last summer is drawing new customers. In just seven months last year, the redesigned Defender posted more sales than the classic model did all the years in the 1990s when it was last available in the U.S.
Nearly every vehicle for both brands has received a series of upgrades for the '21 campaign, ranging from exterior design changes that bring consistency to Jaguar's crossovers, sports cars and sedans as well as to Land Rover's SUVs, to both brands getting updates to interiors and infotainment systems and over-the-air reflash capability.
That has dealers feeling optimistic after the turbulence of 2020, says Larry Zinn, 34, chairman of the Jaguar Land Rover Retailer Cabinet.
Zinn's family has been selling Jaguars since the British Leyland days of the early 1970s, and the family's Warren Henry Land Rover in North Miami was a founding dealer when Land Rover returned to North America in 1987. He spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett about Jaguar and Land Rover's challenges for 2021. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: How are dealers feeling about the Jaguar brand?
A: Jaguar is an exclusive premium brand that offers sedans, sports cars and performance SUVs. It's no secret that we face some headwinds from the market as we shift away from sedans and sports cars, but I think Jaguar dealers are very positive about the future. We saw some great, great things come with I-Pace being a really unique offering in the electric-car side. And I believe that dealers are very confident that the brand is going in the right direction and that we've got a great leadership team that's going to help carry us forward and grow off of the heritage and the strength of the Jaguar name.
Speaking of the company's leadership team, if you could make one suggestion to JLR's new CEO, Thierry Ballore, what would it be?
Well, truthfully, I'm excited to see what he can bring to the table. He's an established global business leader. And I'm very confident that he's aware of the needs of the retailers in our market. We're very much looking forward to working with him. You know as business partners, we have lots of discussions on how we can grow and improve our business, but that's between us.
Have dealers met him?
Yes, we have. We have had some discussions recently and I'd say they were all very positive. And the dealers who did have the opportunity to meet with him were very excited about bringing his leadership to the team.
Is the Land Rover Defender meeting expectations?
The Defender has been a huge success. I believe North America was the No. 1 market for sales for the Defender in 2020. We retailed well over 9,000 Defenders in the U.S. in under a year. It's the best of everything. The power delivery, the comfort, the retro look. I mean, Land Rover really knocked it out of the park. I've never seen consumers as excited for a product as what we're seeing on the Defender. And we've got the smaller [Defender] 90 coming soon, which makes it even more exciting.
I can tell you individually we've had great success with our customers. They love the car so far. And, you know, we're just looking forward to more coming in because they're going out as quickly as they come in.
Everybody that I've spoken with had people waiting for the car to arrive and have been very pleased with the success that we've had so far. On top of that, you know, it was also named the North American SUV of the Year by Motor Trend, Popular Mechanics; it's won 20 automotive excellence awards and got Top Gear Car of the Year, to name a few.
What's your feeling on the demand for the lower-priced 90? Do you think it's going to outsell the 110?
My personal belief is that the 110 will be the bigger seller of the two, you know, just as a matter of functionality and having the third row available in the 110, I think that makes it a more attractive package for a larger audience. But I'm a Defender purist. I can't wait for the 90 to come out so I can get one of those for myself. But from a sizing perspective, certainly having a five-door SUV that has a third row available makes the appeal a little bit bigger.
The Defender launched with hundreds of accessories available. Have dealers been successful selling those accessories and delivering them along with the vehicle?
Oh, absolutely. The accessory sales per vehicle for Defender is more than double the sales of a similar product like Discovery. And my understanding is that over 30 percent of all the Defenders have been equipped with one of the accessory packs that are offered. So, for us, those are huge numbers. We love to see the accessories stay within the dealer body and not go to the aftermarket. Land Rover has done a great job helping us capture that revenue.
You've probably seen this in the media, but there have been stories about check engine lights coming on in the Defender. Are you OK with the Defender's quality?
I believe the quality has been great. Like anything, we always believe that there's room for improvement regardless of what the area of the business is. But so far, we've been very pleased with the quality of the Defender. And it's unfortunate to see those isolated incidents come up because what we have with the Defender is truly something special. And I think a great way forward for the brand.
Last question on the Defender. Are you getting enough inventory? Did the pandemic impact the launch much?
I think everything industrywide got held back a little bit. But as far as supply goes, we always prefer to have one less car than every customer wants; that keeps vehicles hot. I would say we had no major disruption for Defender as a result of COVID-19.
Has the Jaguar Land Rover Retailer Cabinet seen the new Range Rover that is due late this year?
We have seen it! We're really excited about it. But that's pretty much the extent of what I can say.
We know that the next Range Rover is going upmarket to compete with the Bentleys of the world. Can Range Rover play with those guys?
Range Rover is the creator and the leader of the segment. And I don't see any limit to what the brand can do. You know, the Range Rover nameplate itself is so special and has so much equity behind it. And truthfully, nobody makes an SUV quite like Range Rover does. So, I don't think we've seen what the top of the market looks like.
If we look at midcycle freshenings and redesigns, JLR is about to have a very, very fresh showroom. Are consumers taking notice of that?
Yeah, absolutely. On the Jaguar side, we've got a significantly enhanced XF coming. F-Pace, E-Pace, along with the '21 model year F-Type — are all coming in the first quarter. So, it's a pretty robust offering that we're going to have on that side. On the Land Rover side, we've got the '21 model year Discovery coming in with a midcycle refresh, along with the '21 model year Velar, Evoque, Discovery Sport and Defender 90 — all coming in the first quarter of the year. So, consumers are certainly noticing. We've got a well-balanced lineup on both sides. It's a pretty exciting time to be a part of the JLR brand.
Looking at both sides of the showroom, what in your view is missing in the product lineup?
The Land Rover brand is very well balanced right now. We've got product starting at a great price point to get into the brand. And the top of the line, really, you can push that number up pretty high for a full-size Range Rover with custom paint and everything else. So, I'm very excited about what we have there. On the Jaguar side, I think the brand actually becomes better balanced with one sedan, the XF, in the lineup. The E-Pace is a great entry to the brand. The F-Pace freshening is super exciting. The car really looks great. It is a personal favorite of mine as far as driving goes. So, I think the product lineup is really well balanced right now. But we always want more.
Speaking of Jaguar's sedans, is repositioning the XF with a lower price and dropping the XE the right strategy?
I believe it is. I think, really, by combining the two vehicles into one in the segment where we're seeing the popularity shift toward SUVs, a single-sedan strategy that puts the price really at a very attractive point is the right way to go for the brand. And it will make for a very attractive and appealing value offering.
It seems any electric vehicle that is not a Tesla struggles in the market. But now that the I-Pace has been out for a few years, is it starting to get some traction?
I can tell you individually in my market, we've done very, very well with it. It's a great offering. The size is right. It's super comfortable. It's very fast. And it's at the right price point. I think it meets all the needs of the consumer for the size of the vehicle. We've seen improvements come with the vehicle and we're looking forward to what's coming next. It's a great vehicle.
The three-row J-Pace coming next year is the worst-kept secret in the industry. That should help things, too, right?
You may know more than I do. I can't comment on that.
How has JLR helped dealerships navigate the changes brought about by the pandemic?
JLR has done a great job helping dealers get into the digital retailing side of the business. JLR put together a group of preferred providers and has given dealers the opportunity to choose which digital retailing provider they'd like to work with. I think we all appreciate not being told that you have to work with this one provider, you know, go out and find what's best for you and what fits within your business. I thought that was great.
At the time of the outbreak, the new retailer cabinet was just coming on board. We were invited to be involved in all the discussions on what we're going to do to support the network's profitability. In Q1 of JLR's fiscal year, they waived all of our business builder objectives and paid dealers their full bonuses, which was very much appreciated. JLR Financial Group provided wholesale and floorplan support. Another great step to help dealers out.
Dealers who were involved in construction of their new stores were given extended deadlines.
And JLR also suspended fees for training programs and co-op advertising. That helped the dealers preserve cash.
How much emphasis should be put on eliminating wet-signature requirements this year?
This is something that should have happened a long time ago. You could buy a house without having any wet signatures. You should be able to buy a car without having wet signatures. It's a more convenient customer experience. You know, it is touchless, which is what our consumers want. And truthfully, a lot of the digital retailing tools that are offered feature that. And a lot of the challenges that we see are more on the individual state side, not necessarily on the technological side for what the lenders or the dealers are offering.
How has the pandemic affected salesperson productivity?
I think if anything, we've only seen salesperson productivity increase. They've learned how to work differently and to meet different customers' needs and desires. That's anywhere from transacting totally over FaceTime or digital tools to customers that still want to have a traditional but socially distant experience, and they've learned how to do that all while making the customer experience as great as possible.
How has JLR's fixed operations been doing?
We've seen revenue return to pre-COVID levels, and we've seen the dealer body actually get over the national luxury average for profitability at this point and seem to be ahead of where we were last year in business. So, year over year, even though we went through a pandemic, we saw business increase.
Are most dealers doing pickup and delivery?
Yes. That was something that's been a focus for the dealers, even pre-pandemic. So, I think we were very well practiced at it. When COVID came along , we continued to grow on that side of the business and to make sure customers understood what was available to them.
Now pickup and delivery extends to delivering newly purchased vehicles, right?
Absolutely. We see all the time where a newly purchased vehicle is delivered to someone's driveway and the customer is transacting remotely. That was already happening pre-COVID, but COVID really pushed things along. COVID really helped push dealers into the next era of how the consumer, ultimately, I believe, would have preferred to transact.
Are you getting enough of the right mix of vehicles? In previous years, some dealers have complained about been being forced to take vehicles that are not right for their markets.
We're getting the right mix of vehicles. For the vehicles that aren't built to order by dealers, JLR is paying more attention to what vehicles belong in which markets. And, you know, they've been listening to our feedback and doing what they can to improve. So, it certainly is appreciated and has helped the vehicle turn very quickly.