Is Jaguar's latest reinvention the last roll of the dice for a storied brand?
Jaguar is about to undergo its fourth reinvention in five decades as owner Tata Group takes a second crack at shaking up a brand whose glorious past has rarely translated into a profitable present or sustainable future.
Jaguar Land Rover CEO Thierry Bollore announced on Monday, Feb. 15, that the British brand would go all-electric by 2025 and hinted at an even more upmarket future.
Bollore said that the brand's current lineup of sedans and utilities wouldn't be replaced when they reach the end of their life cycle, and promised that new Jaguars would use a new EV platform separate from Land Rover.
"We will reposition completely the Jaguar brand," Bollore told journalists during an online conference. "The SUV will be Land Rover. Jaguar will be different from the SUVs. Very distinct."
How JLR will achieve a reinvention with another brand-new platform on a limited budget is unclear, but cutting Jaguar free from Land Rover does at least recall Jaguar's last successful revival in the 1980s under CEO John Egan. Then it really was independent, following Egan's separation of the brand from state-owned British Leyland, and it thrived long enough to persuade Ford Motor Co. to pay $2.5 billion for the brand in 1990.Jaguar global sales last year barely topped 100,000, down 37% from the year before, compared with 323,480 for Land Rover, which weathered the pandemic better and posted a decline of 18 percent.
In the last quarter of 2020, Jaguar sales were just 22%of JLR's total, illustrating once again what an anchor the brand has been on the company's revival after a brutal couple of years financially.
Bollore also announced that the company had axed the forthcoming XJ electric flagship sedan. The design was the last penned by Ian Callum before he left and featured a hatchback like the Tesla Model S, according to people who'd seen it.
But despite using the brand's Modular Longitudinal Architecture multi-drivetrain platform, it didn't gel with Jaguar's new "Modern Luxury" brand identity.
"The XJ replacement was not fitting with that new positioning," Bollore said.
Instead of competing with BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar will now be positioned more as a rival to Maserati, Bentley or even Aston Martin, according to people familiar with the plan.
"It feels like the last roll of the dice for Jaguar," said Ian Henry, managing director of data and forecasting company AutoAnalysis.
The previous revival under former BMW executive Ralf Speth pitched Jaguar directly against its German premium rivals.
A new rear-wheel-drive aluminum platform was developed at a cost of £2 billion (then $3.1 billion), underpinning cars such as the XE sedan, a rival to the BMW 3 Series.
Executives confidently predicted they'd lure premium customers where former owner Ford failed. Ford famously tried to rejuvenate the brand with the front-wheel-drive X-Type, a car that bombed so badly that analyst firm Bernstein Research estimated Ford lost £4,003 (currently about $5,600) on each one sold. It finally sold Jaguar Land Rover to Tata in 2008.
But the XE and bigger XF also failed to capture customer imagination, and they're now Jaguar's slowest-selling models aside from the niche F-Type sports car.
"Everyone probably underestimates the size of the task and the money involved to make a success of Jaguar," said Henry.
Newly promoted Jaguar Land Rover head of design Gerry McGovern, the man responsible for the look of Land Rover's successful range, promised to make Jaguar "wonderful again" in an interview with Automotive News Europe last year.
JLR will be hoping McGovern's design ability, combined with a push upmarket clear of Land Rover, is the formula that makes this reinvention the one that sticks.
Nick Gibbs covers the UK market for Automotive News Europe.