I thought Jaguar’s decision to run a disguised F-type at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed was an excellent PR decision. Actually, keeping it inside a 20ft steel container in the paddock, protected by a couple of burly blokes, was an even better idea.
The whole set-up was reminiscent of London’s ritziest shops, which are protected by security guards, leaving passers-by to gawp at the contents of the window display from a safe distance. The F-type hasn’t just been designed to provide Jaguar with a halo model; it is also intended to make potential buyers think again about the brand.
Jaguar has been building sharp-handling cars for many years. Trouble is, the average premium car buyer doesn’t think of Jaguar in those terms. Apparently, company research has found that Jaguar is still associated with high price tags and V8 engines. BMW 3-series and 5-series buyers should really be trying the XF for size, but they’re refusing to do so in any significant numbers.
The F-type, which will be tuned as a serious driver’s car, is designed to shock Jaguar out of its gin-and-Jag, American country club image and into a younger, more sassy and metropolitan vibe. Much easier said than done, clearly.
One of the prime movers behind the F-type is Jaguar brand boss Adrian Hallmark, who has form in the reputation management area. Hallmark was the boss at Porsche UK when the 1980s boom ended with a crash and Porsche sales collapsed. Back then, the cliche of the city boy with his red braces and whale-tailed red 911 became the pin-up of recessionary hate (sound familiar?), leaving Porsche’s image in shreds.
Hallmark recalls dreaming up the hardcore 968 Club Sport during a meeting in a hot office in Stuttgart. It was the first of the new-wave Porsches that steered away from the then-damaged 911 brand and back towards people who were primarily very keen drivers.
The plan for the F-type is not dissimilar, introducing a hardcore car to try to shift perceptions. Design boss Ian Callum has been quoted as saying that Jaguar can afford to be ‘fearless’ with the F-type. Indeed, Jaguar has no choice but to be fearless. Last year, despite a range of first-class models, Jaguar shifted just 50,000 units globally.
This makes no sense. Any doubts about reliability and quality in the lucrative US market must have been eliminated by Jaguar’s rise up the JD Power quality league. This year it was ranked second in the Initial Quality Study, second only to Lexus and ahead of Porsche. Sister brand Land Rover was 26 places lower, seventh from bottom.
Sure, there are holes in the Jaguar line-up. It lacks the low-CO2 specials needed in the European executive car market. And the controversial XJ is competing in a segment being killed off by the luxury SUV, but the current level of sales clearly indicate the problems of perception are as significant as any other.
Whether the F-type can blow a hole in global preconceptions remains to be seen, but now is the time for Jaguar’s Audi TT moment, when a single car crystallises years of advances into one giant leap forward that is appreciated by the man in the street.