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Dudder: Putting Jaguar In Focus

Allow me to express a contrary opinion.

Allow me to express a contrary opinion. Unlike those who fawned over Jaguar’s thinly disguised XK replacement at the North American International Auto Show, I am underwhelmed. Despite its tightly drawn curves, lightweight aluminum structure, high performance potential and surprising rear hatch, this new Jaguar looks like a badge-engineered Aston Martin DB9 with an ersatz Jaguar E-Type/Ford Taurus nose cone.

The lack of a clear focus is a continuing problem for Jaguar, and one that won’t be glossed over by producing a high-performance coupe and convertible. The problems bedeviling the marque date back to the end of Sir William Lyons’ reign, and were exacerbated by overzealous business school grads-cum-marketing majors at Ford who saw the British car maker as a license to print money. How else to explain the near-continuous missteps in both styling and positioning, or the three plants—three!—that were dedicated to Jaguar production? Such short-term thinking created the X-Type, a high-volume vehicle built on a mid-level Ford (Mondeo) platform, one that soon will be slung onto the back of the ubiquitous Mazda6.

Quite simply, Jaguars have never been the equals of Aston Martin or similarly upper crust sporting automobiles. They relied on innovation, superior aerodynamics, supple-but-sporting suspensions, and styling that dripped with sexual innuendo of the "nod-nod, wink-wink" variety that was assumed but never talked about. It’s why the E-Type fit so well with the Austin Powers character. As society became more crude, and innuendo morphed into tell-all books and show-all movies, Jaguar began to lose its way. However, Sir William Lyons’ sale of the marque to British Leyland started it down the long road to decline. It has not recovered, nor is it likely to on its present path.

Jaguar needs to step back from the vulgarity of the times and offer sedans, coupes and sports cars that promise fun, excitement and that long-lost commodity—mystery. It must not follow the crowd toward rampant use of technology, but use it in new and innovative ways to support its core principles. Rather than create a sports coupe of interchangeable British style, it must recreate the sensuous line and form found in cars like the C-Type Le Mans racer, and marry it with unparalleled pace and grace to stand apart from the rest of the crowd. Had brighter minds been in charge, the ill-fated and irredeemably stupid dalliance in Formula 1 never would have happened. Vehicles that could be bought and raced successfully by well-heeled and aspiring owners would have been built instead.

It’s time for hard thought on what Ford wants its British sport-luxury brand to be, and whether it has the patience, will and vision to make it happen. It will take time and money, as well as a reduction in volume aspirations. It even will take—I can hear the screams of horror—a mid-size crossover-type vehicle that adds "space" to "pace" and "grace" by melding the Old World charm of an upscale estate car with the sinewy reflexes and sensuous curves of a sports car. It must devour the road with a serene, mischievous charm, possess subtle sensuality, and fling mud only when arriving at the country estate. These characteristics must be repeated in Jaguar’s sedans, sports cars, and a vehicle that brings the panache of the RD6 concept to the 3 Series segment. Only then can Jaguar thrive, much less survive. 

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