Saturday, October 19, 2013

Jaguar's X-type - A Car Destined to Fail

Jaguar Land Rover has now confirmed it plans a new model, to slot below the XF sedan, intended to compete with the world’s most famous midsize luxury sports sedan, the BMW 3-Series.

I’m sure the management, designers and engineers will do much better this time around, after the much-criticised X-type. There were many lessons to be learned after that fiasco - I hope they are heeded.

Back in 1993 Ford Motor Company, then owner of Jaguar Cars, proposed a ‘small’ saloon which could challenge the BMW 3-Series. The idea was greeted by Jaguar’s management in Coventry as ‘interesting’, but ultimately of little interest at the time.

The company was about to launch the X300 large sedan and prospects looked good, and it was thought that a ‘small’ Jaguar might erode the image of the brand, which was always known for high performance, large saloons, with lashings of wood and leather.
Jaguar X300

There were also some realists among the engineering staff who realised that to ‘challenge’ the 3-Series was going to cost a LOT of time and money. They doubted Ford really wanted to commit ALL the resources and funds necessary to be completely successful.

As part of Jaguar’s North American senior executive team at the time I was involved in a number of discussions where we voiced our view that we did not want/need this car in the American market. However, we were always bluntly told that if it went ahead, Jaguar Cars NA would take its share of production.

Then politics intervened. In the UK, Ford of Europe, needed to shut a major Ford manufacturing facility in Britain, with the loss of thousands of jobs. A deal was done with the British Government that the trade-off would be that a ‘division’ of Ford would begin production of a ‘new model’ at the company’s Hailwood plant - which was hoped would soften the blow of massive unemployment.

Ford of Europe management then TOLD Jaguar Cars to stop ‘pfaffing around’ - the X-type would be a reality, and it should get on with the plans. Job done.

Design chief, the late Geoff Lawson, and his head designer, Wayne Burgess, did a commendable job of downscaling the styling of the current XJ6, to produce a ‘small’ Jaguar, but for reasons of economy the car would be based on the current Mondeo.
Geoff Lawson (sketch-Stuart Spencer)

Wayne Burgess
The sop to performance enthusiasts would be that the car would be All-Wheel-Drive, rather than FWD like the Mondeo.

My good friend, Steve Cropley, Editor-in-Chief of Britain’s Autocar told me at the time that the engineers had done a 'pretty good job' creating a small Jaguar based on the Mondeo, aka the "Travelling Salesmens’ Express".

Now came the hard part - selling it!

In the public mind, Jaguar’s image (say, since 1968 and the birth of the first XJ6) had remained the same for decades. Big, high performance, sporting saloons with lots of grunt, great ride and handling, wood and leather - all at a very competitive price. It was sort of like a Bentley at a bargain price.

Now along comes a much cheaper, smaller Jaguar, with no image at all, creating a perplexing situation for the market at large. It might even have been called ‘the answer to a question nobody asked’.

So, the marketing guys were given the task of ‘creating’ a market and then selling 50,000 a year! A big ask.
It was at this point that a series of differing, but intertwined decisions began to define a future for Jaguar, and the X-type, which was destined to fail from that moment on.

American Jaguar customers didn’t know what to make of the car. Thus, it was a slow starter in the States. Jaguar’s then North American management then compounded the problem with a major ‘marketing misrepresentation’ (and herein lies a warning for anyone selling a new idea).

The billboard ad campaign across America boldly stated “Under 40? So are we!” The intention here was to do what every luxury car maker dreams of - lowering the average age of its buyers, to create more sales potential. High priced luxury sport sedans are usually the domain of older, wealthy males.

Guess what? When you got into the showroom the 40 Grand X-type was a dog. It was the ‘starter’ powertrain package, stripped of the most desired equipment, poor paint choices and basically, whatever you wanted on YOUR car cost a lot extra. To the point where the most-favoured specification usually ended up taking the price north of $55,000.

Dealers were told this was their opportunity to make more margin out of a low-priced model, which didn’t offer a lot of profit margin in the first place.

After that Jaguar was in no danger of selling vast numbers of X-types, and despite lots of marketing dosh and discounts, the X-type never really took off in the USA. That’s not to say it wasn’t popular - just not with the people Jaguar hoped would buy it.

Younger buyers never even considered it, and most sales went to retired corporate CEOs who were used to a big Jaguar as part of their package, and the X-type meant they could still drive a Jaguar in retirement. It didn’t hurt that it looked a lot like the XJ6 as well. So when you watched the traffic in most major markets, X-types were mostly driven by old guys puffing cigars, or pink-haired grannies off to play golf.

Next, the X-type then set up Jaguar as a laughing stock inside and outside the auto industry. At the time of its launch, Ford strategists obviously briefed the financial media in London, New York and Frankfurt. It was what they told them that caused the problem.

Note, at this time, the briefings were conducted by Ford Finance Suits, not Jaguar management. The strategists told the most influential analysts (in New York) that Jaguar was on the verge of a huge leap in sales and with the addition of the X-type, overall Jaguar sales could top 120,000 cars a year, making the Jaguar division of Ford immensely profitable - rather than a company which soaked up money and returned very little in the way of profit.

The analysts, who wouldn’t know the truth of any of this and who just report what they are told, promptly wrote up the good news and then sat back and waited for profits to appear.

The Europeans shunned the car because there was no diesel engine; the Brits shunned it because they thought it was too downmarket (and they all knew what a Mondeo was, although X-type only shared 20% of Mondeo parts). The Yanks weren’t interested, so sales plateaued.

After a couple of dismal years, Jaguar Cars, and especially Ford, began getting damning press, with finance journalists claiming the company was not as profitable as they’d been told it would be, and began describing Jaguar as a dead weight around Ford’s corporate neck.

At that point the analysts were urging Ford to dump the goose and cut its losses.

The X-type soldiered on, eventually making just over 300,000 cars in total between 2000 and 2009, and in its final days Jaguar added a smartly-styled estate version (station wagon) designed by the current saviour of Jaguar Design, Ian Callum.

However, the damage was done and Jaguar Land Rover finally executed the X-type in 2009.

Consistent with this situation, Ford had jerked Jaguar Cars Chairman Sir Nick Scheele out of his job in Coventry and handed him a poisoned chalice as Chairman of Ford Motor Company, in Dearborn. Ford’s board then rotated a number of would-be’s through the office of Chairman of Jaguar, and the revolving door was kept spinning by guys who were more interested in ‘serving their time’ at Jaguar, before being posted somewhere else in the Ford empire.

In 2007 Ford actually did do something right, by appointing Mike O’Driscoll as Managing Director of Jaguar Cars. Mike and his team skillfully guided the company through the transition from Ford ownership to Tata Group. After that, things began to look up and Jaguar is now leaping from strength to strength.

Designer Ian Callum, Jay Leno and Managing Director, Mike O'Driscoll
A lot of this success is generated by Ian Callum’s great design sense, and the new cars he has been responsible for - XF, XJ, F-type - and now the new SUV, based on the C-X17 concept shown in Frankfurt this year.

It’s Ian’s vision, design talent and integrity, and respect for Jaguar’s traditions that has pushed Jaguar along to become not only profitable, and hugely successful in the USA, but also a credit to its current management and workforce.

Not to mention the gentle and visionary patronage of Sir Ratan Tata.

Don’t you love a happy ending?


Every year the Mayor and the people of the town of Cividale Del Fruili close off one of their local roads for the Cividale Castelmonte Hillclimb, which is open to all sorts of cars.

The area is just north-east of Venice, and the particular road winds uphill from an elevated village.

My friends at have just posted a video on the Blog which could just be the most entertaining and fabulous 'race drive' video I've seen in a long time.

Check out and you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Ron Howard has done it again! This is not only the best drama film based on motor racing that has ever been produced, but it is equally the best feature film based on Formula One racing. This is especially so because the Director, Ron Howard is not familiar with F1. However, the film is equally a triumph for the writer of the screenplay, Peter Morgan. The words are sensible, the scenes are logical and the story development very intelligent.

Don't miss this film if you're an F1 fan, F1 history buff, or even if you just want to see a well-crafted action-drama-documentary. 

The film is entertaining, engrossing and full of incredible motor racing action scenes, and the 'new' driving sequences are very, very good. 

Whilst Australian actor, Chris Hemsworth, is excellent as James Hunt, I think Daniel Brühl should be nominated for an Oscar - his portrayal of Niki Lauda is outstanding. A great piece of character acting.

Hemsworth and Brühl participated in many of the driving sequences, but here we should pay tribute to the Film Editor Daniel Hanley. The blending of the new footage with historic footage, and action sequences is exceptional.

Overall, this is everything a good movie should be. Sensible writing, accurate depictions of real events, well-crafted dramatic scenes, fast-paced and intelligent action scenes and top-notch acting. Go see it.

I was personally thrilled that the film dwelt on the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix, which I was privileged to attend, and take some historic photos, including the winner, Lauda, being interviewed, post-race.

At race start Lauda got away cleanly, with Hunt second.

Carlos Reutemann did not last one lap, retiring his Brabham Alfa after an accident at St. Devote and then just a short walk back to the pits.

James Hunt's engine expired on Lap 24, and I snapped a disconsolate Hunt trudging back to the pits around the harbour.

Lauda won, ahead of the two six-wheeled Tyrrells driven by Schekter and Depailler.

Lauda, post-race in the rear courtyard of the Automobile Club de Monaco, shows the strain of 78 laps around the tight Monaco circuit.
Surprisingly, Australian World Champion, Alan Jones, was exorcised from the final race, the Japanese GP. It was he, whom Hunt had to pass, to qualify as the World Champion for 1976. Jones and Hunt were great mates, and whilst Alan recognizes that Hunt was very devil-may-care, he says he was a good guy, and a loyal friend.

My own meetings with Hunt during the Australian Grands Prix in Adelaide bear this out. I had many funny moments with him and his entourage of women at our regular Jaguar cocktail parties at the Adelaide Hilton the night after practice.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Jaguar F-Type - This Cat Roars!

Tracking along a seductively winding road in the Australian bush the driver of the F-type Jaguar up front plants his foot on the gas pedal, the cat snarls from its quad exhaust pipes and with a long, fast-disappearing growl the Jaguar blasts out of sight. I can just imagine the grin on the driver’s face as he unleashes 364 supercharged kilowatts and enjoys the ride!

We’re out for the day, driving a Jaguar F-type V8 S and an Aston Martin DB9 Volante V12 - roofs down, an open road, sun shining, gorgeous female companions alongside, so everything’s right with our world.


Of course we’re having fun. With two such elegant, high performance convertibles, who wouldn’t?
As a former executive of Jaguar Cars imagine the thrill when I was  invited to test drive Jaguar’s new sports car.
What are you expecting me to say? As someone who lived through the Jaguar company’s ups and downs at a senior level for almost 20 years I have been expecting great things from the F-type - and it didn’t disappoint!

Pardon me if I gush, but this car is everything those who conceived it had in mind, when they transitioned the beautiful F-type from Ian Callum’s design sketches, into the howling success it has become.

But, back to the driving. First impressions are that this is not some lightweight, lithe, cosy little roadster. This is a big car, and you need to think about its performance potential as you wind up the spring and let it loose. By the time you pack a supercharged V8 engine, eight-speed ZF paddle-shift auto, sophisticated suspension, brakes and all the other goodies into the package, you end up with a car that weighs in at 1665kg.

Wait on! Did I say 1665kg? Yep, and it’s all down to the F-type’s lightweight aluminium construction. The body structure delivers incredible torsional rigidity, a stiffness which is essential in a convertible, to provide pinpoint steering accuracy and an impressive power-to-weight ratio. Yes, F-type has a relatively large footprint, but on the road it delivers true sports car handling and performance. The feedback when driving quickly is truly fantastic!

There is so much sophisticated engineering and technology in this car it’s difficult to comprehend the full breadth of the design and imagination which makes this such a great driver’s car.
F-type at the last remaining birthplace of Aussie motor racing - Mount Panorama
The proportions, married to the weight distribution, and the low centre of gravity are just applied mathematical calculations, but the adaptive damping system which monitors road-induced body motion 100 times a second; steering inputs 500 times a second; and then predicts pitch from both throttle and brake inputs 20 times a second is mind-boggling. Add to that a trunklid made from composites, not metal, so it can carry the antennae for the radio and GPS signals, and you have a car which is not only carefully-thought out, and thoroughly modern, but also a car which bristles with practical touches, like the cockpit design and features.

When you’re pressing on, especially on a glorious road of sweeping curves and gentle undulations, the driver has a great connection to the car’s dynamic responses and this is what produces true sports car sensations.

In styling terms I think the rear view is the most seductive. Crisp lines, beautiful shapes, delicate features and slick aerodynamics.

The front delivers a road presence unlike the current Jaguar range. It’s bold and purposeful.

This year F-type sales in the USA have taken off, contributing to a 30% rise in Jaguar’s Year-to-Date sales to the end of September!

Jaguar, under Tata Ownership has found its mojo and the company’s future has never looked brighter. But it’s at the individual level that the impact is being felt. 

My companion, whose Aston Martin DB9 Volante joined us for the day out said that although he preferred the sculptural look of the DB9, he pronounced the F-type as the BEST Jaguar he has ever driven! High praise indeed, from a man who has owned a variety of Jaguars over the past 20 years!

Now that I’ve sampled the king of the range V8 S, I think a spin in the ‘base’ model, V6 with 250kW would be an ideal follow-up. Something tells me that this model, which is 65kg lighter, may turn out to be a beautifully-balanced car with more than adequate performance. That’s a great experience to look forward to.