Jaguar does not need state subsidy. It needs more customers. Management needs to have more feel for the brand and for what people want from it. I want the management to fight successfully in the market place so the jobs can be saved. My thoughts are with the employees. There can be no future for their jobs if they need to rely on state subsidy rather than customer income.
When I was 36 I acquired my first Jaguar. I was appointed Chairman of a big quoted industrial group of companies. The large black Sovereign saloon came with a chauffer to pick me up for the first day’s work.
The only reason I got such a job was the Group had been bid for. During the course of the bid the Board had signed up to a stretching profits forecast for the forthcoming year. The defence worked, but shortly afterwards my predecessor as Chairman fell seriously ill. The Board asked me to take over, as they thought it unlikely anyone would want to come in from outside to deliver the profits we had promised. I recognised we needed to raise revenues and cut costs to meet it. I also realised I could guarantee to cut the costs, but could not guarantee the extra sales.
So I cut the Chairman’s salary, sold the company aircraft, placed the pilot with the new buyer of the plane, and sold the company flat in the West End. Armed with moral authority from cutting my own perks and pay, I then persuaded others to cut their costs in turn. We made the profits forecast easily and went on to hit 37% return on capital. The Jaguar was the one luxury which I kept. I asked the chauffeur to do other things for the company when I did not need him for company business trips, which had the side effect that I could drive the car as well. It began a love affair with Jaguars which lasted for a long time.
I was fortunate to inherit an older Jaguar saloon when I made it to the Cabinet. It wasn’t as good as the company one I had enjoyed, but it did have some style. I restrained officials from buying me a new Rover to replace it, managing to combine my enthusiasm for careful control of public spending with the happy outcome that I could keep a Jaguar in government that I had got used to in business. On leaving government I just had to find the money to own and drive a Jaguar myself.
At the end of the 1990s as Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry I was asked to be one of the people who turned up to admire the then new Rover at the Birmingham Motor show. I did so, and gave favourable comments to the press. I also saw the new S type on the Jaguar stand. I was so glad they did not ask me which car I would buy. I thought the flowing lines of the S type were superb. Whilst it had a hint of the 1960s icon Jaguar, it was a thoroughly modern car. Place them side by side and they are very different.
Until recently I have been happy with the brand. I am now not surprised to read that Jaguar are struggling. They have made mistakes with the way they design, present and project their cars and handle their customers.
I was first mildly worried when I visited the Jaguar Formula One outfit shortly before they gave up. They were spending too much for comfort, but not enough to win. It was difficult to see why they did it for so long. Wouldn’t it have been better to have raced modified production cars in a cheaper competition, and achieved a higher standard?
The launch of the X type was not a comfortable time for the company. Many traditional supporters of Jaguar did not see it as a good addition to the range. Jaguar compounded the error by trying to persuade owners of more expensive Jaguars to switch to their new cheaper product! That was a great way of trying to cut the margins and turnover.
More recently the Group has been spending substantial sums on market research and questionnaires. I have bothered to fill a few of them in, but developed an increasing frustration when I realised they were not listening. They were not understanding the answers and were not communicating back. I explained several times that I was not yet persuaded by the design of the new XF. The windows are small, the back is very high, the width is narrow, and the radiator grill looks like a mini Bentley gone wrong. They have lost the classic elegance of many of the best Jaguar designs. I bought one of the last S types instead. Now I am being bombarded by requests to buy the XF as if I have never expressed an opinion on it.
Worse still, somehow the press picked up a negative line about those of us who had bought S types when the XF was launched. We read that the S type was old fashioned and stodgy. The all modern exciting XF was designed to sell to the younger executive, a new breed of Jaguar buyers, people who had been buying BMWs. Well if that is the case, why do they wish to sell one to me, having insulted me? What compelling deal or argument can they put to me to say sorry, if they want older Jaguar fans back? I did not see myself as old fashioned or stodgy for buying one of their cars.
The reason Jaguar is struggling is it does not have enough customers. Yes, it had to widen its customer base. No, it did not have to do that by upsetting the existing supporters. Jaguar does not need a public subsidy, it needs a stunning successor to the XJ, possibly a remodelling and relaunch of the XF, and some much more astute marketing to reposition the brand comfortably, so it can reclaim its old supporters whilst winning some new friends.
Political parties could tell them a thing or two about the need to win over new friends without losing the core support. Comments like “the new Jaguar is styled specifically to shed its stodgy British lines” and “No more for Jaguar the relentlessly retro approach that is perceived to have done the marque no favours at all in modern times” must have come from briefing close to the company. It is undermining perceptions of their previous cars, never a good thing to do given that many likely Jaguar new car buyers have probably owned one before.
It would be so 1970s to go back to subsidising car makers. In those days the more the government subsidised, the more the state aided companies lost market share. The car companies came to see the government as the main customer, as they sought cash from them, whilst the foreign competitors got on with designing and building cars that individual customers wanted to buy. It was a disaster. The UK fell further and further behind the best of modern car design.
Surely even this government must see the folly of subsidising a foreign owned company to make luxury cars to sell to people with good incomes or money in the bank? And can’t the top management of Jaguar start listening to their customers, instead of contracting that out to consultants who manage to make a former Jaguar addict like me hopping mad with the way we are being treated? I am all in favour of the company innovating, and recognising that time moves on and perceptions of beauty change. What I cannot accept is clumsy “repositioning” in a way which makes former friends uncomfortable with what the Group is doing.