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Jaguar XE 'absolutely vital' for company fortunes

On a wire: The new Jaguar XE is the first of a triple-pronged charge back to volume by the Indian-owned British car-maker.

Mid-sized XE will be tapped to boost slowing Jaguar sales both locally and overseas

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Jaguar logo12 Jun 2015

By TIM ROBSON

JAGUAR’S upcoming XE sedan will be tasked with reviving the fortunes of a company with slowing sales and an ageing fleet, according to the car-maker's Australian bosses.

Set to launch worldwide this August, the XE is the first mid-size sedan from the company since the demise of the X-Type in 2009, and will go head to head with top-performing models from Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, among others.

Jaguar Land Rover Australia will debut the XE with the largest marketing program in the company’s history, before turning its attention to the second-generation XF and F-Pace SUV.

Speaking with GoAuto at the launch of the all-wheel-drive F-Type range in New South Wales, Jaguar Land Rover Australia managing director Matthew Wiesner is under no illusions about how important the XE is to local fortunes.

“From a breakthrough perspective, and also probably from Jaguar becoming relevant from a volume perspective, the XE is absolutely vital,” he said.

“We're going to have to make sure we're on the money from a competitive perspective so people see it as great value. The main thing is we now have to earn some trust in the marketplace because Jaguar hasn't been consistently in that space for quite a while.”

Marketing director Kevin Nicholls agrees, adding that the car-maker will be talking up the XE's credentials in the lead up to launch.

“We’ve had an extended launch phase, which is inevitable with the international nature of the launch,” he said. “So we’ll try and turn that to our advantage and make people more familiar with the car.

“It’s a big thing to be able to say ‘here’s a non-German brand, here is something that’s a bit different, but it’s highly competitive'. We’ll argue that it has the best ride, handling and dynamic performance of anybody in that segment, as well as the strength of the design side.”

Mr Wiesner acknowledges that Jaguar’s local sales are down year on year, but points to the fact that the brand's fleet is about to be largely refreshed.

“We're kind of limited with Jaguar at the moment based on the product availability we have, so you're right, the XE becomes significant to say the least,” he said. “Obviously, we ran XK out at the end of last year. We were probably averaging ten or a dozen XKs a month, and XF is battling its way through run-out. Numbers wise, we're not fussed because it is what it is.”

The brand has sold 376 cars this year, a 16.6 per cent dip over the first five months of 2014, with the F-Type the only model showing growth. Jaguar sold 1167 cars in 2014, five per cent up from its 2013 tally.

Rebuilding the brand will pivot around three products to be rolled out over the next 12 months, starting with XE, followed by a new XF large sedan in early 2016 and finally Jaguar’s first SUV, the F-Pace.

“We've started investing in Jaguar brand messages and so on well and truly a couple of months ago,” Mr Wiesner pointed out. “It's not just XE, it's XE, then XF, and then F-Pace. Particularly this 12-month period from, effectively, now until we launch F-Pace, it becomes very much a big 12 months around Jaguar.”

The XE will launch into a category that’s currently dominated by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, with BMW’s refreshed 3-Series and Audi’s soon-to-be-renewed A4 also on the XE’s competitor list. Mr Wiesner is confident that the XE will hold its own in the tough space.

“We're launching that car into arguably the most competitive segment going around,” he said. “How we convert people in that segment when we don't have a presence in it in the first place is obviously a challenge for us.

“The good thing about it is we are certainly getting a lot of interest, and a few orders here and there. I think it's just because there's something fresh and new, and there's a lot of expectation around Jaguar having a presence in and around that segment.”

Mr Wiesner said the company would release its pricing and spec details of the XE a little earlier than it had planned to, after discussions with senior JLR officials who flew out from the United Kingdom.

“There were certainly some aspects that we discussed around that launch period to make sure that we're all in the right space,” said Mr Wiesner of the meetings. “When we look at our packaging and price positioning versus what's going on in that segment I think we're going to be pretty good.”“What we’ve got to do is make people consider this car in the same breath as others in that very competitive segment.”

Two variants – a supercharged 3.0-litre V6-powered range-topper and a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel version – have been outed by Jaguar, wit the XE’s chassis to be built with a large proportion of aluminum to save weight.

Mr Nicholls added that the marketing spend would be large, and that the brand will chase markets it has not been in for some time.

“We’ll also look at the corporate and fleet market, which we haven’t had a whole lot to do with, but (we are) putting the car out there as a genuine contender and an alternative to those other brands,” he said.

Benz is the clear leader in the premium mid-size segment, with 3967 sales to the end of May this year, followed by the BMW 3 Series on 1645, and then anther Mercedes – the CLA – on 1247.

The segment currently holds a 2.3 per cent share of the overall Australian new-car market, and this year premium mid-sizer sales are up 29.3 per cent, thanks largely to the success of the C-Class and CLA.

Mr Nicholls said he is bullish about the XE’s prospects, but would not be drawn on whether the XE has the ability to take the top spot in the category away from Mercedes-Benz.

“I’d love to say so. We’re obviously the challenger brand, and we’re under no illusions that it’ll be an easy start up,” he said. “Our network coverage is less for a start. It’s not a segment that’s growing, so to get what we want we’re going to have to take a chunk from other people. We’ve got high hopes – but I won’t claim that (number one spot) right now.”

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