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Jaguar eyes new XJ flagship

New cat: XF is expected to attract up to 600 customers this year.

New XJ range-topper here next year as Jaguar Land Rover consolidates under Tata

Jaguar logo23 Sep 2008

By JOHN MELLOR and MARTON PETTENDY

THE managing director of Jaguar Land Rover in Australia and New Zealand has confirmed that the next-generation XJ flagship sedan is just 12 to 18 months away.

In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with GoAuto, David Blackhall has also revealed that it is business as usual for the two British brands in Australia following their acquisition by India’s largest car-maker, Tata Motors, and that he intends to position the Jaguar brand closer to Bentley and further away from German rivals like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

“We’ll have new XJ in the next brief period of time, in the next 12 to 18 months or whatever and that car I expect to be… positioned significantly upmarket from where the current vehicle is.

“We talk about Jaguar as premium niche. The way I explain this to people is… closer to Bentley than BMW. That’s the territory we’ve got to keep heading towards in my opinion.” Mr Blackhall conceded the current XJ’s styling was too retrospective to attract larger numbers of premium large sedan buyers, but said Jaguar’s new flagship will rectify this.

“I think everyone concedes the styling (of the current model) could have been different. It’s dynamically one of the best cars you ever could drive (but) the current XJ always for me personally was looking in the rear-view mirror far too much.

“I think the new car will be true to the Jaguar tradition. (But) This car will be a forward-looking car. No question.” “I don’t have a firm date on it (arriving here) because there are not firm declared dates out of the UK, but they are actively working on the car. I did see some very close to final executions of the car that looked terrific.

“We want it as soon as we can get it. I definitely feel good about it,” he said.

Mr Blackhall said Jaguar’s current entry-level model, the X-Type, still attracted about half of the brand’s sales volume in Australia – much more than in other markets. He said that the $100,000-plus XF may need to be repositioned if Tata decides to discontinue the X-Type beyond 2010.

“Interestingly enough, it sells well especially for us. It still contributes probably about half our volume.

“A job for us will be if there’s a decision made for that car not to continue beyond 2010, then we’re going to have to obviously think about how we structure ourselves and what XF can do for us - what other opportunities there will be with that car.

“But you know that decision as far as we know is not taken yet. We are active on the car, we have a confirmed product plan through 2010 - beyond that it’s not visible to us so…” Mr Blackhall confirmed an R-badged performance version of the XF sedan was previewed by a prototype at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed, which should morph into a production version here by mid-2009.

“There’s a plan around a higher performance vehicle (based on the XF), which would logically be an R. There was car that broke cover (at Goodwood) that was not called an R, but it was certainly headed in that direction.

“We’d be very keen to have one and we’d like to get one into Australia as soon as it could be done, so we’re anticipating something would develop out of that prototype that was shown at Goodwood.

“Personally, I’d love to see something probably before the halfway mark of next year if I could, but again I don’t have that confirmed by anybody - I am lusting after units.” In terms of Land Rover, Mr Blackhall said the lightweight compact LRX concept heralded the future of the iconic British off-road brand, but its production future was net yet confirmed.

“There is tremendous effort going into making sure Land Rover’s future is not compromised by being flat-footed.

“Certainly the global SUV slowdown which has affected everybody in the SUV market is impacting Land Rover in the short to medium term, but the answer lies in having products that continue to fulfill the multitude of uses that our customers require them to do, but do it in ways that are acceptable in the company environment.

“I haven’t got a (LRX production) date and as far I know the last time I had any sort of official word on this it was still on the drawing board as a concept and something we’d love to get into the cycle plan.

“Size, light weight, fuel efficiency, alternative solutions - they’re all part of the mix, aren't they? Phil Popham, our global MD, has said LRX represents the future direction as far as we can tell.” Mr Blackhall said that the Freelander’s idle-stop system would not be seen in Australia any time soon because it is engineered only for a manual transmission at this stage.

He said that, as promised, Tata had made no apparent changes to Jaguar or Land Rover’s future model plans out to 2013.

 center imageLeft: Jaguar Land Rover Australia/New Zealand boss David Blackhall and Land Rover's LRX concept.

Mr Blackhall said that Jaguar Australia was on target to sell up to 1200 vehicles in 2008 – half of which are expected to be XF models – while Land Rover should finally achieve its stated target of 4500 sales, thanks largely to the Range Sport and Freelander 2.

“If you take our running rates, looking through the first seven to eight months of the year, Jaguar will probably be in the 1100-1200 range and I expect probably a good 500 to 600 of those will be XFs.

“Land Rover we’ve always publicly targeted 4500 (sales) and we think we will get close to that - we’re on a running rate to do that. The only thing that’ll stop us will be if the market continues to be difficult and tanks beyond what we think it will,” he said.

Mr Blackhall said the upside of slower sales in Europe, the UK and US was freer supply of both Jaguar and Land Rover models.

“The UK and European and US situation hasn’t really had a major impact on us so far, but the flipside of the difficulties in the northern hemisphere means that we can get pretty much get plenty of stock when we want it.” He said the changeover from British to Indian ownership had occurred seamlessly so far, and that the company’s dated information technology (IT) system could benefit from synergies already offered by Tata.

“It’s remarkably calm and smooth. I guess I describe it as totally transparent as we are concerned operationally. I know in the UK there’s probably more routine contact (with Tata), but certainly for us in Australia and NZ and I know from talking to the other managing directors across the globe there’s no operational interface of any consequence whatsoever.

“So the philosophy appears to be very consistent with Mr Tata’s statement that we like to acquire business and have the professionals that are in them run them.

“Locally I have gone on the front foot a bit with the Tata general managers and CEOs that run the other businesses here in Australia, because I think they offer us, as a small operation, some opportunities. They have a very large IT consultancy, Tata Consulting Services, and so were engaging them.

“We have met with them and are doing a bit of preliminary scoping with them to see if they can help us with some local IT challenges.

“The biggest single suggestion we’ve had and the one we think will be most fruitful most quickly is on the IT and systems front. It’s no secret and we’re not on our own, by the way, but most car companies have a patchwork quilt of systems stitched together and ours is no different.

“So you’ve got systems that date back to the Inchcape days, BMW days, Ford days and what I’m saying is we need a properly thought-through IT strategy and Tata can help us on that - that would help me to make our business more efficient.” Mr Blackhall said Tata could present other opportunities in the area of marketing, via its expansive worldwide hotel chain network.

“We have also met with the GM of the hotel group - they own the Blue Hotel at Woolloomooloo in Sydney and you know that is an interesting discussion.

“We might run a convention there if the price worked out and we might sell some courtesy cars, but the synergies are minimal frankly and as I said operationally there is no engagement at all,” he said, adding that Jaguar would continue to focus on customer-targeted events as its chief form of marketing.

“In the last couple of years we have stopped doing things like going to motor shows and running what I have called broad-based marketing campaigns in favour of highly focused high-end activities. We have a series of XK days running at the moment were we offer people high end experiences that they can’t get any other way.

“It’s something we need to keep working on. We have are having success… with very focused activities that try to build around the Britishness and uniqueness of Jaguar because were are not going to get anywhere trying to take the Germans head-on - it doesn’t work for us.

“My mantra to our team is we have a small enough business that we should know everyone personally and that’s where we’ve got to get to.” Mr Blackhall said that, from Jaguar Land Rover CEO David Smith downwards, the company had a fresher outlook than it previously did under Ford Motor Company ownership.

He said Jaguar Land Rover Australia/New Zealand continued to be owned by the UK entity, despite the change in shareholding at global holding company level.

“The UK team is walking around with its chest stuck out a lot more in my opinion, saying ‘we run this business now’ and the delegated signing authorities and all that sort of stuff all stop with David Smith, who is the CEO. There is no reference to anybody outside of that.

“In the Ford system as you probably understand there was always someone in Dearborn who wanted to look at whatever was happening and the authority level stretched all the way up to Mr Mulally.

“Well that’s not longer the case. I think there’s recognition that we’re a small business in the context of the global car business - you know, 300,000 units a year is tiny. We need to be nimble and we need to run the business ourselves and make it work - make good business decisions and deliver.

“So, yes, I get a feeling of much more self-containment - we’re flying the plane, it’s up to us now and we’ve got to do a good job, you know.”

Read more:

First drive: Jaguar's new XF is a classic catch

Jaguar Oz prices XF from $105,500

First look: Jag lets its new cat out of the bag


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