The self-described "motor head" who used to help his high-school buddies rebuild their Ford Mustangs is now VP-marketing at Jaguar North America in Irvine, Calif. The 38-year-old Middletown, New York-native was promoted last month from strategic planning manager, Jaguar North America.
In his prior job at the Ford Motor Co. unit, the former motorcycle mechanic worked on such things as business plans, marketing budgets and production volumes. Now Mr. Ayres, who still rides the three motorcycles parked in his garage, is responsible for U.S. brand positioning and strategy. His new job comes at a tricky time for Jaguar, in the midst of a major product expansion.
"We used to be a two-to-three-car company and just recently we became a four-car company, so we are learning how to be a bigger company" he said.
Jaguar's fourth model is the X-Type entry-level sedan. Launched last fall as the least expensive Jaguar ever, it's boosting sales volumes. X-Type accounted for 18,933 units of Jaguar's 32,642 first-half sales, the marketer reported earlier this month.
Jaguar wants to sell 50,000 X-Types annually. Jaguar's overall 2001 sales tallied just 44,532 units.
But too many consumers still think of Jaguar as offering "old, wooden, leather" cars without the latest technological advances, Mr. Ayres said. His challenge will be to educate consumers about today's modern Jaguars and increase sales while staying true to the brand's British heritage.
That doesn't mean his ad budget will rise. He expects to do "a lot more direct-to-consumer communications," including events, test drives and more innovative online marketing. He credited WPP Group's Y&R Cos., Irvine, Calif. with "a lot of good executions."
Jaguar spent $66.7 million in measured media in 2001 vs. $53.1 million in 2000, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.
Mr. Ayres joined Ford Motor Co.'s Chicago region in 1986 fresh out of Duke University with an MBA. He eventually landed at Ford in Dearborn, Mich., and worked in various jobs including corporate branding. Ford moved him to the U.K. in 1997 to work at its Jaguar subsidiary. He returned to the U.S. in 2000. Of his time in the U.K., Mr. Ayres is most proud of his work as marketing liaison for the XJ8.
"I don't envy George his job," said Martin Bennett, a Nashville, Tenn., Jaguar dealer and chairman of its dealer council, who met Mr. Ayres three years ago in England. But he figures Mr. Ayres will meet the challenge. Mr. Ayres "couldn't do the job if he wasn't steeped in the product the way he is," Mr. Bennett, a U.K. native, stated. "George has Jaguar firmly embedded under his fingernails right now."
Name: George Ayres
Now: VP-marketing, Jaguar North America
Challenge: Change consumers' misconceptions about Jaguar