Just four years ago the global automotive industry had written off Ford’s brands—Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and the then recently sold Aston Martin. They were all bleeding, had declining sales and didn’t seem to have much new product action on the anvil.
What followed was nothing short of miraculous. The brands are no longer with Ford, and as I wrote in my last column, Volvo has certainly taken the attack to the market, with new designs and new models gaining acceptance rapidly. The story has been similar at the now Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).
The two companies have seen sales growing year after year since the Tata takeover in 2008. This has come on the back of new demand from emerging markets, but more significantly, resurgent demand from traditional markets such as the UK and US. In fact, Jaguar, which was considered the weaker of the two, bounced back more strongly, with sales in 2010 increasing 21% over the previous year, according to company figures.
Smaller Jag coming?
But now comes the tough part—consolidating and increasing that presence will not be easy. In China, Jaguar is still on the lookout for a local partner to gain a foothold in the massive luxury car market in that country. In India, JLR lags behind the competition in terms of dealerships and model range. So now both brands are looking to expand that portfolio, moving into more mass and varied offerings. Jaguar, for instance, is planning a car smaller than its current XF, to take on the likes of the Audi A4, Mercedes C Class and the very dominant BMW 3 series.
New variants crucial
Besides this, Jaguar realizes that the current models need to address more demand pockets. For instance, the top of the range XJ, which is a best-seller in the US but still loses out on addressing a quarter of its segment, which is dominated by the Quattro or all-wheel drive (AWD) Audi A8. So Jaguar is now planning an AWD version of the XJ.
Similarly, its XF currently operates with just the V6 and V8 engines, missing out on the market for four-cylinder engine buyers—especially diesel. This is being corrected with the launch of the all-new third-generation AJ I4D that’s set for global debut in a few weeks. Let me clarify that this 2.2-litre common-rail diesel engine will not be arriving in India for starters, but I do expect to see it make an appearance on future models from both brands. I had a chance to drive a car equipped with this engine a few days ago at the Jaguar headquarters in Whitley, UK. In fact Jaguar is also going in for a makeover on the XF, which is why the car you see in the picture above is camouflaged. The new look will be revealed next month, but at least I have some details on the new drive train. There are two other goodies on board—a new eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, and a brand new start/stop system. The gearbox is smooth, responsive and the gear changes are very subtle in auto mode. It’s in the manual mode—with the use of paddle shifters on the steering wheel—that the car’s true nature comes to the fore though. The 2.2-litre engine was surprisingly potent, its near-190 bhp output allowing for quick acceleration, and yes, without any perceptible lag.
The start/stop system is different from the others I have seen of late. The system uses a tandem solenoid starter which allows for quick restarts. Let me explain. A start/stop system basically allows the car to shut down when you press the brakes and bring it to a halt, but for this you do not turn off the ignition. This way you save fuel at traffic lights. But there are times you come to a halt—say, on a roundabout—realize you don’t need to stop after all, and want to quickly duck into traffic. At such times, a start/stop system is usually slow to respond as it has just engaged a shutdown. But that’s where the tandem starter on the new Jaguar system comes in handy—the car springs to life almost instantly. A big help, and therefore less frustrating than other similar systems. Besides the regular car battery, the car also houses a smaller motorcycle-type battery in the boot. This allows the climate control system and other car electricals such as in-car entertainment to run seamlessly, even when the start/stop system switches off the engine. Of course if the outside temperature is too high, the car comes to life on its own—even before you take your foot off the brake—to enable optimal cabin cooling.
Evoque looks hot for India
The new soon-to-be launched Range Rover Evoque also features the new 2.2-litre diesel engine as an option, and having had a chance to see this in action, I can say it’s perfectly mated to that SUV as well. And I do believe that this engine will become a key driver of the JLR business in Europe and India in the near future. Land Rover plans to bring the Evoque to India, latest by the start of 2012. Jaguar would do well to consider a speedy introduction of the I4-equipped XF here in India too, even though that is not currently on the anvil.
Key driver: The soon-to-be launched Range Rover Evoque features a 2.2-litre diesel engine as an option.
No. 1 in india?
JLR has also said that it now sees India as a second home market after the UK, so it wants market leadership, as it has in the UK. While this may take some time, the new models, and possible local manufacturing, will certainly keep us very interested, right?
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at firstname.lastname@example.org