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Q&A: The past and future of Jaguar Land Rover

Jaguar revealed its aluminum-intensive, all-new XF sport luxury sedan at the New York show last week. I caught up with Joe Eberhardt, President and CEO of Jaguar Land Rover North America, and Stuart Schorr, VP of product communications, to talk about where the brand has been … and where it’s headed.

The introduction of the manual transmission to the F-TYPE is very exciting. Are we going to see more manual transmissions in Jaguar and Land Rover cars and SUVs?

JOE EBERHARDT: It’s really an interesting longer term question. For the F-TYPE it wasn’t that hard just because of its performance orientation, and you’d expect that in a sportscar. Now I know that not many manufacturers bring that to market in North America anymore, I think we’re actually the only one in the class together with Porsche, I think, that has a manual. But I think it fits the personality of the car, it is enabling the overall performance characteristic, as is all-wheel drive. As such it was an easy decision.

I mean we looked at the F-TYPE maybe contrary to the past of the entire lifecycle of the product—so what are some of the things to do to continuously offer broader options and keep the product fresh? Because as you know, in this segment it is typically a very steep lifecycle. Build up very quickly but they also trail off, drop off quickly. So you have to, from a product portfolio perspective, find actions that will keep the product interesting and fresh and in the consumer’s mind and I think we have done a fairly good job with the F-TYPE. We started with convertible, we added the coupe, we added manual, different powertrains, and there will be further surprises coming to keep that product top of mind for our enthusiast customers. So we’ll see what happens and we’ll see what the take rates will be, we have certain expectations, and if it works well … You know we’ll do some manuals in the rest of the world so I would never rule out categorically that there won’t be further manuals in other cars. But it would take a significant take rate of the F-TYPE to start discussions of whether we’ll bring it in other cars as well.

A manual F-TYPE … was that something that the North American Jaguar product planners were pushing for?

JE: It was the American side asking for it, but we were welcomed with open arms from the other side, because there’s a bunch of enthusiast engineers that would agree from a performance perspective this is there right combination for a true sportscar enthusiast. So it wasn’t that we just had to build business cases—of course we have to do that, but there was a fairly quick buy-in that this was the right thing to do. There’s a lot of guys that love cars, and it’s much easier to have that debate and discussion with true enthusiast engineers than with, not to be disrespectful, the finance guys. So it was an easy sale.

Is the F-TYPE a point of entry into the brand?

JE: It is maybe the entry in terms of the brand, but I wouldn’t call it an entry-level car. But maybe for some people it’s the first touchpoint for the brand, so hopefully we can leverage that and win them over for what Jaguar is. It’s very difficult to describe. I think we finally found the right positioning,: which is performance and seduction. You [can] explain seduction as design. The reason why we didn’t use design is that it’s more than just the look of the car. It’s the sensory experience, the feel, the sound, when you get into the car.

It’s different. Small things that other brands don’t have, that sets Jaguar apart. We weren’t able to really, and maybe you can’t, put that into words and describe it. For someone to get into the car and experience it, for F-TYPE, is critical because then they may take a look at the XE, XF, or XJ.

It truly is a driver’s car that is slightly different than everything out there. In today’s world, it’s so hard to differentiate this stuff. What makes you special? What makes it different? We can say it drives differently, but it’s a tough sales point to make. You have to experience it. People that know it, can credibly talk about it. That helps.

Tell me about F-Pace then. Clearly it expands the appeal of the brand to new consumers, but is it still a performance vehicle?

JE: It has to be, otherwise it wouldn’t be fitting the Jaguar brand definition. It wouldn’t be worthy of the Jaguar badge. I think Ian Callum said it best when he said, "I never thought we would do a Jaguar crossover. If you would have asked me 5 or 6 five or six years ago, I would have said absolutely not." Then he went to work from a design perspective, and today he would say it’s very much worthy of the Jaguar badge in terms of its design and appeal. And the same is true from the engineering perspective. If it wouldn’t deliver the on-road performance, and the performance credentials that are fitting of the brand, we wouldn’t do it.

The fact that Porsche has shown that you can build a credible performance vehicle in that category is terribly helpful. Because if Macan is able to do it, I think it gives us the confidence that we will be able to do it as well. And the fact that the market is accepting of a performance SUV or performance crossover is very good news.

In terms of volume, where will the F-Pace land? Are you expecting it to sell more than the XE?

JE: We’re not sure yet. We’re actually debating that internally. There’s some of us that think the XE will be higher, and others feel the other way. What I know for sure is that these two will be our biggest volume in the Jaguar brand by far. The good news is we have the flexibility to react to market needs. If one is 10 percent higher than the other or vice versa, we can react to it. But both will certainly be the highest volume Jags.

Diesels are coming. Should we be excited?

JE: They are coming to Land Rover this year with the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. They both get the TD6. About 32 percent [increase] in fuel economy over the V6 gas, and one interesting stat that I find really interesting: Over the prior generation Range Rover with the old engine, it’s an 80 percent improvement in fuel economy.

STUART SCHORR: So in a year in a half, we have a new-generation car with all-aluminum that cut 800 lbs. and boosted fuel economy in a big chunk. It’s like a transformation of that product.

JE: So we’ll start with Range Rover, then it will come in every other Land Rover model. And it will come to Jaguar: Every Jaguar will get a diesel, except the F-TYPE. So XE, XF, F-Pace will get a diesel.

What is the sales proposition for a Jaguar diesel? Is it a performance car, or an economical luxury car?

JE: It will still have a performance angle, a driving orientation. It’s more difficult to sell performance as we would traditionally define it. It’s still a quick car off the line, but it’s not V6, V8-type performance. There is some trade-offs especially with a 4-cylinder diesel. It is still a quick car, it does have great torque, and fuel economy cannot be beaten. So we’ll be in the mid-to-high 40 mpg with the diesel. We probably won’t lead with the "it’s the most fuel efficient Jaguar ever built" but it allows you add a rational argument to support the more emotional performance-oriented argument.

I drove in the XF last week, in the 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder diesel. The V6 was a phenomenal car. It has 700 N-m (516 lb-ft) of torque—off the line that engine is absolutely phenomenal. I actually thought it was the best balanced car of all, the six-cylinder diesel.

I learned a lot about the serious light-weighting that went into the XF: The all-aluminum structure, et cetera. What does the future hold for light-weighting Jaguars, and the F-Type in particular? Will it get smaller, or lighter, in the future?

JE: I think lightweight is a core proposition for Jaguar, [but] I’m not sure that the F-TYPE will migrate to a different platform. It is on an older platform. Maybe there’s opportunity to get further weight out of it, but ultimately that’s not the most important core value for the F-TYPE. I think it’s a combination of design, performance, and as we said, I think before 550 hp you can carry an extra 5-10 lbs. It’s ok. [laughs]

I don’t think we’ll focus too much in this generation of F-TYPE on further weight reduction. What the future will hold remains to be seen. We are focused on aluminum in all of our architectures and platforms, with the addition of other lightweight materials that you mentioned. And you know, then we’ll see what fiber composites and other materials will hold.

SS: And light-weighting the engines …

Hypothetically, would the XE platform be a suitable platform for a future sports car? Or would it have to be something different?

JE: That one I need to punt to my engineering colleagues, because I’m not sure. I know it underpins the XF and the F-Pace, but whether you would take it one for one as a donor, I honestly can’t answer.

SS: What I understand is that the whole idea of the architecture is very different than the old platform. It’s infinitely more changeable, and modular. And it doesn’t really carry that same idea, that it’s limited. There are similarities between XJ and Range Rover aluminum architectures; certain principles and practices can be done any way, with any product.

It’s a brave new world with the kind of modularity that allows Jaguar to produce the F-Pace. Where will it take you?

JE: I think we said it today in the press conference, maybe not eloquently enough, when we talked about when the Jaguar will get Land Rover off-road technology. Maybe that wasn’t the best way to say it, but what it really means is that there is a lot of expertise within the company, that in the past maybe was not as freely and openly shared to the best possible use. So why wouldn’t you take the leaders in off-road capabilities, Land Rover, that over the years have really pioneered the intelligent 4WD systems, and use that expertise for the benefit of Jaguar? Give it to the Jag engineers to take the learnings and experience, to put it into Jag, and vice versa. Why wouldn’t you use the chassis experience from Jaguar to make it available to improve the dynamics.

SS: Especially the electronic systems, the under-the-skin systems that apply to any car. So if you’re spreading them over a wider range of vehicles …

So to what degree are Land Rover and Jaguar integrated, behind the scenes?

JE: From a customer touchpoint perspective, we are brand-centric and brand-focused. Because customers ultimately don’t buy the company or the corporate identity—they buy the brand, they want to interact with the brand. But everything behind the curtain, we will integrate to a greater degree. And not just product development, but other functions of the company as well. If you develop a system on the market side, direct-customer communications, you do that for both brands. The way you apply it might be slightly different, but the basic underlying structure and system is exactly the same.

And that counts for the technology as well. There are a lot of efficiencies that maybe in the past we didn’t leverage completely, but going forward there’s a clear commitment to get as much out of the system as possible to benefit both brands.

SS: We have a dual-branded engineering organization, a product development organization, they have people who are specialists who are things: You have a Range Rover team, a Range Rover Sport team, a Jaguar XF team, but there’s not two separate organizations.

JE: Design is completely separate. But if you develop electronics, it’d be foolish to [not share]. The new infotainment is dual-branded.

SS: The Ingenium engines will be used in both brands. But it’s more about getting right technology and features for that car. It’s not "this is that brand’s tech" or something.

Speaking of this, the new infotainment system seems like a massive improvement. Are you happy with it?

JE: We are, and we are probably more impatient than you are because we live with it every day … you get into different cars. We drive our cars, and that’s one area that we really need to improve quickly and dramatically. The new-generation system is light years ahead. From what I’ve seen, it’s fantastic.

SS: Peter Virk [Head of Connected Technologies and Apps at Jaguar Land Rover – Ed.] is a young guy, he’s really interested in the technology, he works directly with our local product management guys. There’s more interest here than there is in other markets for developing that stuff. We’re sort of on the cutting edge.

Tell me about SVO, and the SVR vehicles. It seems like there are exciting things happening now.

JE: That’s a whole area of the business that in the past we didn’t put enough focus on. We have Special Operations, which has four elements: SVO, Heritage, Accessories, and then the Personalization business. It’s really a business unit in its own right. The exciting part about it is that these SVO, which today does the SVR and in the future will do more of it across the entire product portfolio. Those are [enthusiasts] target cars.

And the Jaguar Heritage collection seems to be quite a success in bringing awareness to the brand.

JE: It’s interesting, there are two schools of thought. One was "why do you care about these old farts?" Even the car clubs, or the old cars. You need to think forward. And I think there’s some truth to that—you can’t just live in your past. But if you find a way to connect your past to your future, and I know that sounds a bit hokey, but then you have something that is really a difference-maker. I’m sure Lexus or some other brand, Kia, Hyundai, would give an arm and a leg to be able to have that history.

So I think it’s just about how to use it, and in what form. It’s got to be done sparingly, and done with a view on the future. Because if you just say, "well, we’ve got old farts," … well, good. You’ve got old cars, but what made them special? What was the differentiating point in the past, in their time, and how and why is that relevant to today? If you find that connection, I think you have a winner. And it’s something that not everybody has.