If you've got 2 hours, 56 minutes to spare, watch this.
What you’ll see – an over-the-top stage show for the launch of a new Jaguar–was in automotive terms a major event, even if in show business terms it may strike some as having been not quite ready for prime time. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, however, you can judge for yourself. And, while no spoiler alert is intended, I can report that a few stiff drinks might be a good way to jump start the viewing fun.
As fate would have it, I caught this theatrical spectacular in London live last week, so I know of whence I speak. A last-minute invite saw me racing over to the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, where Jaguar was hauling out scores of actors, singers and special effects to launch a new model before 3,000 celebrities, dealers and journalists at a believed cost to corporate parent Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) of a whopping £7.5 million (approximately $12.2 million). The occasion? The imminent arrival of the 2015 Jaguar XE, the company’s upcoming volume offering, its first in years meant to compete with BMW 3-Series, Audi A4s, Mercedes C-Class and assorted Cadillacs, Infinitis, Lexii, Acuras and Lincolns in the entry-level premium class.
The XE (not due in the US until 2016) is a big deal for a variety of reasons, not least because it is meant to grow Jaguar’s sales volume substantially, aimed as it is at the heart of the luxury volume market – the strong-selling $40-$55,000 models that are the financial underpinning of powerhouse luxury brands like BMW, Audi and Mercedes. JLR was purchased by India’s Tata from Ford Motor Co. in 2008 and post-Ford Jaguar has been an incredible success story, in most every way, too, lacking only one thing: success. Current sedan offerings XF and XJ, larger and more expensive than XE, are both excellent cars, but sales have been anemic, in spite of their considerable merit. While the new F-Type sportscar has been a hit, the continued existence of JLR has owed everything to the sales success of Land Rover and Range Rover and not a whit to Jaguar.
So the XE has its work cut out. Many remember the Jaguar X-Type, Jaguar’s last bid for mass-market appeal. Launched in 2001, it sold strongly if not at the absurd levels Ford had hoped, but was thought at the time to have tarnished Jaguar’s reputation, for having been based on a European Ford (Mondeo, now Fusion) chassis. Ironically the X-Type has stood the test of time unusually well, a perfectly decent machine that properly maintained runs to high mileages without excessive rusting or crusting; you still see them trundling around New York in substantial numbers.
This raises another irony about Jaguar’s whole situation. Dragged down for years by a reputation for eye-watering unreliability, the company has been garnering quality awards for years – second in initial quality this year according to JD Power, ahead of all the German makes – but the American consumer hasn’t, by and large, caught up with the news.
The XE is not only important for fans of automotive diversity, however. (And really, must every professional drive a BMW, Mercedes or Audi?) It’s also technically significant, following Jaguar’s recent tradition of forming cars almost entirely out of aluminum. Offering lighter weight with no sacrifice in strength, it’s a costly proposition for carmakers, but increasingly recognized as the future. With a host of new fuel-saving engine options, including turbo-fours and diesels, the XE promises to be a fresh new face in the world of so-called responsible luxury. It doesn’t look bad either, indeed about as good a car in this category can look, given the safety regulations, and other restrictive design parameters governing automotive styling, c. 2015.
Tata benefited hugely from its predecessor’s multi-billion-dollar investments in Jaguar (long since written off by Ford as a debacle) which made the all-aluminum, top-of-the-line XJ possible, but the Indian company must be given all the credit in the world for its own serious investment in Jaguar generally and the XE in particular. This is a very serious car intended to duke it out in the most serious end of the car business and, from the looks of it, comes fully prepared. Without having even driven it, we suspect it will be best in class in some aspect (we’re guessing ride and handling) and that’s no easy feat, especially for a small company. How skill and finesse can trump the juggernaut advantage of absolute volume is one of the things that make us marvel about the quality of Jaguar’s current lineup.
Which is more enthusiasm than we can muster for the stage show that launched the XE. The relentlessly theatrical presentation featured a large cast of fresh-faced actors and British chart sensations I’d never heard of (plus the reliably chugging sound of the Kaiser Chiefs, who broke through long ago,) plus a plot that was mostly inscrutable and near impossible to follow but had something to do with time travelers going back in time before returning to the present to design the XE. It seemed odd for a company that professes its commitment to modernity to spend so much of its near three-hour (!) presentation in the past, celebrating former moments of glory by casting past car models in the show and driving them on stage. Then again, when you’re Jaguar, your past cars are so cool, so why wouldn’t you remember? Or something predictably show-off, like delivering the XE by helicopter and barge to Earls Court?
Even if they did close the doors behind me without warning I’d signed up to donate three hours of my life to some lavishly funded dinner theater, in the end I don’t begrudge Jaguar their party or their swagger-- classically British, with an extra dull twist, though there's something about delivering a star car by helicopter, barge and police escort employing classic Jaguar patrol cars that never fails to amuse.
But I will look past it all and suggest you do the same. The XE, as PR man Ben Samuelson and Steve Cropley, the distinguished Australian expat atop the masthead of Britain’s Autocar, reflected after the show, is probably the newest new mass-market car launched in Britain since the uni-bodied Ford Consul of 1951. If Jaguar weren’t going to celebrate it, who would?