Jaguar needs to go electric now | Thank Frankel it’s Friday

09th December 2022
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

The vacation of the top seat at Jaguar Land Rover by Thierry Bolloré has made me more concerned than ever for the future of the first named of these brands. Land Rover has big problems – an unenviable reliability reputation and an ongoing shortage of microchips that appears to be affecting it far more than most chief among them. But so too does it have achingly desirable product that sells in good numbers with fat margins. It will be fine.


The contrast with Jaguar could scarcely be more stark. While Land Rover has launched both a new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport to near universal acclaim in the past year alone, Jaguar last launched a new car in 2018 when a lady called Theresa May lived in Downing Street. So while it still has a wide range of cars on sale – the XE, XF, E-Pace, F-Pace, F-type and I-Pace, even the youngest of these is four prime ministers old, while the oldest, the XF was launched before the term ‘Brexit’ was even in common parlance.

I have heard so many possible explanations for the departure of Bolloré beyond the catch all ‘personal reasons’ offered by the press office. Some say he simply couldn’t get on with his bosses at Tata, others that frustration over the chip crisis caused him to walk and some that he had no choice as he was required back in France to answer questions about his brief time in charge of Renault, a company he left with equal alacrity in 2019. For the avoidance of doubt, I don’t know and Bolloré certainly isn’t saying.


But while he was there, he was at least a man with a plan, a vision no less, to relaunch Jaguar in 2025 as a low volume, all electric premium player in the market. Whether that vision remains or has been discarded is unclear. What we do know is that one of the things Bolloré did while he was there was bin the new all-electric XJ at a reported cost of £1 billion despite, as I understand it, the car being close to production ready. He also axed the J-Pace, a full-sized SUV to sit above the I-Pace in the range. The reason for getting rid of the XJ, I understand, was because the market for large saloons is falling fast, but the J-Pace would appear to be exactly the kind of car Jaguar needs, and in the nick of time too. No longer it seems.

I’m also in two minds about the plan to turn Jaguar into a true premium brand. I understand the motivation entirely: Jaguar has struggled in the mainstream for many years, attempts to convincingly rival the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi having failed. Pushing it up market means you need to sell fewer cars and you make more money out of each. There is more scope for ‘character’ to become a USP and history records that Jaguar is always at its best when leading and not following: from the XK120 in 1948, past the MkII, E-type, original XJ right up to the I-Pace seventy years later, the best Jaguars have always been the boldest.


But you have to ask why someone would spend what would probably be a six-figure sum on a Jaguar when they can have a Porsche and quite possibly an Aston or Bentley for a similar amount? At this level, little matters more to customers than the badge on the back and I fear very much that Jaguar now lacks the brand equity to survive at this level, if ever it did. It’s fine to gently nudge a marque upmarket with a continual stream of world beating product, as Land Rover has done so well with the Range Rover, it’s quite another to go from years of near silence to total rebirth in an area of the market where you’ve had no former representation. The point is for Jaguar to even have a hope of surviving at this level, it is not in the least bit good being merely as good as a Porsche, Aston or Bentley, because that provides no reason for customers to jump ship. It needs to be better, much better than the established best in the business. And that is some ask.

So what should JLR do with Jaguar? It’s hard to say but I see no quick fix. I’d get the J-Pace back on track, bring the still excellent I-Pace bang up to date and probably dispose of all those ancient ICE cars that in any case have no part in Jaguar’s future and slowly build from there. I find it hard to see what else might work. Let’s hope Bolloré’s successor has more imagination than me.

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