Magazine article The Spectator

Take Two F Words

Magazine article The Spectator

Take Two F Words

Article excerpt

Motoring

Take two F words Alan Judd

Big Cats have been on my mind recently. Not only the svelte and beautiful Jaguar XKR that came to visit, but the company itself. Is it in danger?

If it is, it's not really Jaguar's problem. Its current models are not only desirable - Jaguars were always that - but wellmade and reliable. The XJ luxury saloon has improved so much with age that it came third in this year's JD Power customer satisfaction survey; a new model is due in February. An improved version of the successful S-type was launched this year (values of second-hand S-types actually went up earlier), while its popular X-- type little sister looks like doing equally well. Both are to offer hitherto-unthinkable diesel options by 2004 and there might be an oil-burner for the XJ as well. Why not? Mercedes and BMW do it. There should also be an X-type sporting estate by next summer.

Meanwhile, the sporty XK8 and XKR admired convertibles and coupes with combined sales approaching 80,000 - will spawn bigger and yet more powerful versions of themselves in 2005. All these Jaguars are popular and profitable and there are plenty of eager buyers for new models. So what's the problem? It can be summed up in two F words.

The first F word is Ford, Jaguar's munificent parent company that has poured billions into new production plant and models. The once-mighty Ford is haemorrhaging cash, not only because of huge compensation payouts in the United States following the fitting of lethal tyres to some Ford Explorers but because many motorists who previously bought Fords have stopped buying them. The problem is particularly acute in this country. Ford's model range may not be particularly exciting but its cars are generally pretty good, particularly the Focus and Mondeo. However, it seems to have no aspirational models, cars that people long to buy: status cars. The Explorer itself was an example. Highly popular in the US, it failed here partly because of its uninspired looks but mainly because the 4X4 market here is largely a high-status, fashion-conscious market, and how many of those buyers look at Fords?

At the same time, Fords have become nearly as expensive as those that do have status, so customers go there. If contemplating, say, a Mondeo Ghia for 18,245, a BMW 316i for 18,635 or an X-type Jaguar for 19,995, which would you choose? The Mondeo might be better equipped, might in some ways be a better car, but most of us paying that sort of money want more than wheels; we want something we like to be seen in, and we want the feel of quality. …

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