Jan
11
1985 Jaguar XJ6, The End of Jaguar

1985 Jaguar XJ6

Met my dad for lunch recently. From our table at a nearby eatery we had an excellent view of the street. My dad, who has a mild curiosity about happenings in the auto world, commented occasionally on vehicles passing the restaurant. While we worked to polish off the chips and salsa before our enchiladas arrived, dad took note of a crossover he couldn’t identify.

The End of Jaguar

After a close look, and more time than I care to admit, I recognized the vehicle in question. “It’s a Jaguar, dad, F-Pace.” I noted. “A Jaguar?” He asked. Dad didn’t comment further, but his confusion spoke directly to the British brand’s current state of affairs.

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1979 Jaguar XJS

1979 Jaguar XJS

Jaguar isn’t what Jaguar was. Not even close. A brand that built its reputation on design and performance, as well as luxury and prestige, has been reduced to selling two anonymous crossovers, a couple of reheated cars, and an electric vehicle no one cares about. And, frankly, I am pretty bummed about the whole thing.

I worked as a pump jockey in the early Eighties. If you’ve always pumped your own gas, the term pump Jockey may not mean anything to you. But that’s what we called full-service gas-station attendants. I pumped gas, checked the oil, and checked your tire pressure. Oh, and I cleaned windshields. I was really good at cleaning windshields.

I loved that job, primarily because it kept me close to cars. And I pumped gas into some great cars. The service station I worked at was situated between affluent Barrington, Illinois, and Route 53, a major local traffic artery. As such, plenty of cool and upmarket rides pulled into the station for fuel.

I commonly saw Mercedes-Benz S-Classes, Audi 5000s, Cadillacs of all stripes, an occasional Renault 18i, and even a GMC MotorHome. Off topic: Having your GMC MotorHome topped off at full-service prices is nothing short of financial madness.

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1969 Jaguar XKE

1969 Jaguar XKE

I also saw plenty of Jaguars. A few sexy-as-hell V12-powered XJSs, but mostly XJ6 sedans. Lots of XJ6 sedans. And, if you haven’t noticed, the XJ6 of the Eighties was an uncommonly beautiful car. It was somehow sleek and regal at the same time. And they smelled good, too. I recall the waft of wood and leather—and sometimes cigar smoke—that was exhaled from the cabin when the car’s window rolled down. How I envied the owners of those glorious British saloons.

Under the hood was the fastidiously detailed Jaguar 4.2-liter inline six that was famously strong and silky smooth. Oddly, I don’t recall many of these Jags needing oil, which is somewhat contrary to brand legend. At a time when the engine bay of most American cars was little more than a maze of rubber hoses and glamourless painted valve covers, the Jaguar compartment gleamed with polished aluminum and smart organization.

Even cooler, the XJ6 of the Eighties featured dual gas tanks, filled from different ports on opposite rear fenders. I could usually reach both fillers from the pump without asking the driver to move the car. I recall a customer once commanding me, “Just fill one tank, I’m in a hurry.” I would learn later that the XJ6 featured inboard rear brakes, which occupied the space a conventional fuel tank would normally occupy. The XJ6 was designed with the inboard brakes to reduce un-sprung weight, this to improve handling and ride quality. What a car: Luxurious, sporty, and even a little enigmatic.

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1962 Jaguar MK2

1962 Jaguar MK2

Folks with a deeper appreciation for Jaguar likely latched emotionally onto earlier models than the XJ6, perhaps the legendary E-Type. But for me, it was the XJ6 that hooked me on the brand.

I would later work for a man who bragged, literally bragged, about how much his Jaguar XJ6 cost to keep running—it was in the shop often. Seems he so love the car that spending big money to keep it running was part of the charm. A lot of Jaguar owners were like that then; the gorgeous cabins, the power, the ride and handling, all justified whatever sacrifices were necessary. That said, reliability issues were becoming a problem for the brand, but the marque’s legacy was such that folks didn’t seem to mind very much.

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2022 Jaguar F-Pace

2022 Jaguar F-Pace

Sadly, the XJ6—the brand’s bread-and-butter volume seller—was redesigned for 1993, with a model that was decidedly blander to look at, and, by most accounts, to drive. Sans classic Jaguar styling, the car was more directly compared to the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and didn’t always fair all that well. Still, Jaguar sold a large number of the sterilized XJs, but the car was now more commodity than legacy.

There are two key events that likely did the most to strangle Jaguar’s relationship with brand loyalists, and its own past: killing the inline six engine, and rebadging the Ford Mondeo (Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique in the U.S.) as an entry-level model.

Ford purchased Jaguar in 1990, a thing which did much to improve Jaguar reliability, but also to water down the brand. Though famous for its stout 6-cylinder engine, Jaguar began replacing the six with a V8 co-developed with Ford. The “AJ-V8” served Jaguar—and Ford, the engine appeared in the Thunderbird as well as the Lincoln LS—well, but was a sad break with the brand’s storied engineering history.

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1958 Jaguar print ad

1958 Jaguar print ad

Under Ford’s tutelage, Jaguar continued to break with its past, and  morphed gradually into a common, volume carmaker. The single most disturbing event in this regard was the introduction of the X-Type compact sedan and wagon, arriving for 2002.

Based on Ford’s aforementioned mass-market Mondeo, the X-Type was a transverse-engine front-wheel-drive small car adorned with a nervous quantity of Jaguar design flourishes, and just enough leather upholstery to legally qualify as a Jaguar. Jaguar only sold the car with AWD in the U.S., this to shield the brand from likely criticism for selling a front-wheel-drive model.

A fellow editor at Consumer Guide, after spending a week in an early X-Type 2.5 sedan, remarked, “It’s fine, but it isn’t a Jaguar.”

As you may know, Indian industrial giant Tata took control of Jaguar and Land Rover (also then a Ford property) in 2008, under the newly created Tata Motors arm of the corporation. It seemed that, early on, Tata’s stewardship would revitalize Jaguar, but that never really happened.

A quick review of Jaguar’s current model lineup confirms that the brand’s schism with its past is complete. Jaguar now sells two conventional crossovers, the subcompact E-Pace and the compact F-Pace. Both are decent rides, but unless you’re looking at the Jaguar badge on the grille, there’s little here to suggest these vehicles are Jags. Jaguar still sells a sports car, the delightful F-Type, but the Corvette-sized 2-seater has gone mostly unchanged since it was introduced in 2014. It’s cool that Jaguar still builds this car, but the sports car segment has shrunk dramatically, and other makers build faster and more modern alternatives. And, if I may be permitted to whine about something, F-Type P450 AWD R-Dynamic Coupe doesn’t really roll off the tongue. We know now too, the F-Type dies after the 2024 model year.

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2008 Jaguar print ad

2008 Jaguar print ad

Jaguar’s last sedan, the midsize XF, is sporty and fun to drive, but it’s long for a serious update—which is not in the works—and far too cramped for a modern 4-door car. The infotainment system is also about two generations behind the times.

And, sadly, Jaguar management has badly bungled the brand’s single bright spot: selling an EV. The I-Pace was introduced in 2018, about the same time Audi launched the e-tron midsize crossover. Sadly, customers didn’t warm to the I-Pace then, and haven’t since. Consumer Guide’s first test I-Pace, a 2019 model, arrived with a $95,000 sticker price and had to be flat-bedded away after failing to accept a charge. For the record, the e-tron, now called Q8 e-tron, has given way to a family of Audi EV models, all of which are selling reasonably well.

Sales numbers suggest that Jaguar completely wasted its position as an EV pioneer, as the brand retailed fewer than 17,000 I-Paces globally in the first three quarters of 2022, that’s about the same number of Tesla Model Ys sold in the U.S. every three weeks.

And, regarding sales, Jaguar managed to sell just over 9000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2022, compared with the more than 55,000 units showroom partner Land Rover managed to hustle. That’s also substantially fewer than the 13,000 sales managed by boutique brand Alfa Romeo in the U.S. for ’22.

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1953 Jaguar print ad

1953 Jaguar print ad

I have a framed Jaguar ad from 1958 hanging in my office. The text begins, “Fewer than 7500 Americans can get a new Jaguar this year…” Sadly, the brand is back to late-Fifties sales levels.

Here’s the real problem, and the reason that Jaguar is all but dead in the U.S.: There is no plan for Jaguar to update any current models, and the maker will not begin adding new product until it starts rolling out more EVs, this no earlier than the 2026 model year.

This means that for the next three model years, Jaguar sales will continue to plunge, and the brand name fade more deeply into obscurity. There is so little enthusiasm surrounding the brand, it’s hard not to assume Tata is looking to kill the marque, and allow more successful Land Rover go it alone. As it is, the E-Pace and F-Pace are mechanical clones of the Range Rover Evoque and Velar respectively, albeit with less off-road ability and more anonymous styling. There’s not much unique engineering that would be lost by killing the brand off.

As for the coming Jaguar EVs, if they’re coming, Jaguar Creative Director Gerry McGovern promises the new products will be, “a copy of nothing.” I’m not sure what that means, but it does suggest that heritage design is not in the cards.

Were Tata really serious about saving the Jaguar brand, you’d think we’d have seen some evidence to that effect. Why let a brand whither for years before a promised rebirth sometime in the future? At this point, it makes sense to take the brand all EV, as Jaguar is effectively dead in the U.S. anyway, so what’s the harm?

Were Jaguar serious about its EV future, you’d think it might show us something. How cool would a swoopy crossover-coupe concept (in this case definitely pronounced “coup-pay”) called XJS-E have been at CES this year? The car might have featured round headlamps, in-board rear brakes, and the promise of solid-state batteries, or a fuel cell, or something. But that didn’t happen.

At this point, even if Jaguar does launch a family of EVs here in the U.S., it won’t matter much. The brand has been neglected for a generation, and is largely forgotten by consumers. Additionally, we’re learning that EV buyers demonstrate little brand loyalty. There just won’t be a ready audience of Anglophilic EV intenders waiting for Jaguar’s glorious return. Unless, maybe, Jaguar can build a sexy EV with dual gas tanks.

Note: Per Automotive News, Jaguar sold just 9000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2022, down from 13,000 in ’21. The electric i-Pace saw sales of just 394 units, a decline of 50 percent from the previous year.

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The End of Jaguar

Photo Feature: 1970 Jaguar XJ6 Four-Door Sedan

The End of Jaguar

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