I am a huge fan of Jaguar.
Have been since my teens. However, there has often not been a great deal to celebrate about the marque. Their glory days have seemed to be in the past. Until now.
Jaguar seem poised to take on the big German 3, BMW, Audi & Mercedes. They have launched the F-Type a car so comprehensively better than the XK that Jaguar have put the XK out to pasture and stopped manufacturing it whilst they figure out how to improve on the F-Type. This is a car bearing comparison with Porsches and Aston Martins.
The XF is continuing to do well and to hold its own in comparisons against the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class.
And Jaguar have just launched the XE, designed to take the fight to the compact executive class leaders, the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. A plucky Brit takes the fight to the mighty Germans.
It’s a story line that plays well in Britain given the historic enmity between the two nations and recurring references to The War. I predict that this will be the sub plot in the inevitable comparison test of the Jaguar XE coming soon to BBC’s Top Gear.
Yet I confess that I am often a little frustrated by Jaguar, because they don’t seem to move the game on enough. They seem too often to settle for matching rather than exceeding the competition.
When Jaguar launched its advanced 3.0L twin turbo V6 diesel engine in 2009 it was only slightly better than the one that the previous class leaders at BMW had been producing for years. BMW has since gone on to upgrade their engine which now outperforms the Jaguar engine on pretty much all fronts.
When Jaguar launched their advanced 5.0L V8 engine in the XFR and XKR later in that same year it was similarly only a little better than the equivalent engines from class leaders BMW and Mercedes. Each has since gone on to launch downsized turbo V8s which now outperform the Jag engine.
Indeed even Ford is outperforming the Jag V8 having announced the launch of the Mustang with a 430bhp 5.0L V8 whilst Jaguar’s equivalent only musters 380bhp.
The latest example of this matching rather than exceeding of rivals is the much vaunted IQ[Al] aluminium intensive platform underpinning the all new XE which was anticipated to bring significant weight savings. Up to 200kg was mooted by some journalists. In fact it has thus far produced weight savings of only 10% of that figure at 21kg, less than the weight of a small child.
So what is going on at Jaguar Land Rover, a company with hugely talented engineers possessed with a great heritage? Why do they seem incapable of moving the game forward? Why are they always catching up to teh competition rather than leading it? I have a theory.
My theory is that Jaguar has the capacity to do better than it is currently doing. For example, it certainly has the capacity to build a 5.0L V8 that produces at least the equivalent numbers to Ford’s V8, given that they could well be produced in the same factory. (Jaguar V8s are I believe still produced in a separate Jaguar facility within Ford’s colossal engine works at Bridgend. Aston Martin has a similar deal in Cologne for its V8s.)
Similarly, given the exotic nature of its construction Jaguar surely has the capacity to make an XE that is significantly lighter than it has achieved so far. If this is true, why hasn’t it done so?
My theory is that Jaguar cannot afford open warfare with the German big 3. Jaguar sales are measured in the thousands whilst theirs are measured in the millions. JLR is a relative minnow. It can’t afford to enter a technology or horsepower race with these guys or it would get crushed.
Bear in mind that it is now standard procedure for manufacturers to buy the best of their competitors’ cars and if necessary take them apart to see what they have done. So any technological advantage that Jaguar might possess would not remain an advantage for long. Their competitors can easily copy it and then spend 10 times as much developing it with economies of scale that JLR can only dream of.
So JLR cannot afford to develop an engine that moves the state of the art on by, say 25%. If they do so then their competitors will respond by moving the game on by 20% on top of that and that would leave Jaguar precisely where it is at the moment, trying to catch up with the big boys, only with an even more unattainable target required in order to be in sight of the state of the art.
Similarly, if Jag launched an XE that was 200kg lighter than the class norm, BMW would have to respond by making a car that was 225kg lighter and there would be an escalating technology war which BMW et al would inevitably win because they have far deeper pockets.
Remember the nuclear arms race of the cold war? America didn’t win because its scientists were superior to the Russian ones. It won because its economy was more successful so it could outspend the Russians. However, in the end everybody lost because millions were spent on pointless one-up-man-ship. And then we spent more to decommission pointless weapons.
This I think is Jaguar’s strategy. It can’t afford open warfare with the German big 3. It would lose, not because it doesn’t have the necessary engineering prowess, but because it doesn’t have the R&D budget.
More significantly, if Jaguar pursued an open warfare policy everyone would lose. It is a zero sum game. We would all end up spending more for our cars as manufacturers spent increasing amounts trying to outdo each other in order to have the necessary bragging rights, with diminishing returns for the customer.
So I think that JLR has set itself more modest targets. It does not aim in the short term to produce a game changer. It simply aims to be competitive. It needs to be in the ballpark and playing in the same league as the big boys, and it is taking pretty much all its resources to be able to achieve that. This is its short to medium term goal.
Once it is firmly established in the premium league and has pockets that are about as deep as its key competitors, then it can begin to explore whether it wants to make a bid for ultimate supremacy.
In the mean time JLR has to settle for guerrilla warfare; it tries to compete without seriously attracting the attention of the big boys. That battle will come later. Much later.
It’s taken Audi over 20 years to arrive at a place where it can stand toe to toe with BMW if it wishes. Even Mercedes now appears to be beginning to take a leaf from Audi’s book. Its new C Class looks to be aimed more squarely at the A4 than the 3-Series.
If JLR is ultimately successful, it will probably take Jaguar at least the same amount of time, a couple of decades, to change the big 3 into the big 4. However, make no mistake the seed of that change is being planted now. And it’s called the XE.
Time will tell whether JLR is ultimately successful. I certainly hope they will be. Roll on 2035, then, just in time for Jaguar Car’s centenary.