Jaguar ready to pounce

Jaguar has struggled since it launched the disappointing X-Type in 2000. Can a ‘Gorgeous’ ad campaign revive the brand’s fortunes? By Rob Lester

Jaguar is one marque that has always set the pulses of car enthusiasts racing. The big cat logo and the classic racing green colour have been synonymous with cutting-edge design and quality motor engineering for more than 80 years. But declining sales figures have led to a series of cost-cutting measures, which this year saw the closure of Jaguar’s iconic Brown’s Lane plant in Coventry.

Parent company Ford admitted last month that it could no longer guarantee Jaguar will return to profit following a further decline in European sales. It had previously said it expected Jaguar to break even in 2007.

Jaguar suffered a 24 per cent decline in new car registrations in the UK in September, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. It sold just 4,754 cars last month, compared with 6,220 in September last year. Overall sales for 2005 are down 21 per cent at 21,565, compared with 27,376 at the end of September 2004.

The company has just launched a multi-million pound global advertising campaign, the first from new agency Euro RSCG Fuel, in an attempt to halt the decline. The campaign, which carries the strapline “Gorgeous”, aims to remind people that Jaguar is a luxury brand – following its foray into the mass market with the launch of the X-Type in 2000.

Euro RSCG Fuel worldwide executive vice-president Kate Robertson says: “People were extremely fond of Jaguar – but this was in the past. The company had a period where it lost confidence, but when we looked back at reviews of Jaguar cars the word ‘gorgeous’ kept coming up. This is not a question of a brand claiming to be gorgeous; Jaguar is a brand that actually knows what gorgeous is.”

Some observers see the repositioning as harking back to the old days. As well as the new campaign, Jaguar is introducing more British racing green into its showrooms and managing director Bibiana Boerio said recently the company should not be scared by its heritage.

Corporate Edge chairman Chris Wood says the new campaign is reminiscent of the old “Grace, Space and Pace” slogan. He believes the strategy is playing to Jaguar’s strengths, but sounds a note of caution: “If it’s doing this, it must make sure the cars look gorgeous. The cars need to be good enough to substantiate the claim.”

In the 1950s, Jaguar had huge success in motor racing. Between 1966 and 1968 it became part of the British Motor Corporation and subsequently the British Leyland conglomerate. But as part of the large corporation it experienced problems with manufacturing quality and morale at the company dipped.

Institute of Automotive Industry Research assistant director Paul Nieuwenhuis says: “It started to go wrong in the 1970s, when the quality was appalling. Jaguar has now got the quality right but, because it is owned by Ford, the decisions are made in the US, not Coventry. Jaguar goes through phases where it wants to be modern and it never quite works. There’s been a lot of experimentation and some issues with the styling that have contributed to its woes.”

Jaguar overcame problems with reliability and sales continued to grow after Ford bought the company in 1990. By 2000, with global sales exceeding 90,000 thanks to the success of the XJ and the S-Type, Jaguar took the gamble of launching the mass-market X-Type. However, sales were disappointing, particularly in the recession-hit US market, and in September 2004 the company decided to end production at Browns Lane.

One senior motor industry source says the launch of the X-Type dented Jaguar’s reputation for prestige. He labels the car an “unmitigated disaster” and says: “It used the Ford Mondeo platform with lots of plastic; it was a Mondeo with a different skin. People who bought the X-Type went back to the BMW 3-Series, the Audi A4 or the Mercedes C-Class.”

But he adds: “The Holy Grail for Jaguar is to get bums on seats because when you drive their cars, most of them are astonishingly good.”

Euro RSCG Fuel says the “Gorgeous” advertising campaign will do exactly that, by introducing the idea of “new-fashioned luxury”. But one advertising source remains unconvinced, saying: “The issue Jaguar has got is how it makes this prestigious car brand prestigious again. It doesn’t quite know how to do it. Does it make Jaguars fashionable and contemporary or luxurious and prestigious? The trouble with luxury is that it is often perceived as being old-fashioned.”

History

  • The Jaguar story began in 1922 when William Lyons and William Walmsley set up the Swallow Sidecar Company in Blackpool.
  • In 1928, the company moved to Foleshill in Coventry and the Jaguar brand was born in 1935.
    vIncreased demand saw the company move to its new “spiritual home” at the former Daimler site in Browns Lane, Coventry in 1952.
  • The introduction of the legendary E-Type Jaguar in 1961 cemented its reputation for quality.
  • Between 1966 and 1968, Jaguar became part of the British Motor Corporation and subsequently the British Leyland conglomerate.
  • Being part of a large corporation led to problems with quality and Jaguar was hived off from British Leyland. Following stock-market flotation in 1984, it became a private company.
  • In 1990, the company was bought by Ford and in 1999 the parent company formed the Premier Automotive Group, comprising Jaguar, Aston Martin, Volvo and later Land Rover.
  • Jaguar took the gamble of taking on the mass market in 2000 with the X-Type, but sales of the car were disappointing. In 2004 the company took the decision to end production at Browns Lane.

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