SOUTH AFRICA: JEWEL IN THE JAGUAR CROWN

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  • Jaguar brand celebrates 50 years in South Africa
  • Dealers invest R12 million in upgrading facilities
  • New XJ “an overwhelming success”

The Jaguar brand is riding the crest of a wave. As it celebrates its 75th anniversary, Jaguar is meeting with considerable success all around the globe – not least of which in South Africa, where the brand has enjoyed a loyal following for no fewer than 50 years.

According to Mike O’Driscoll, Managing Director of Jaguar Cars, the South African market is extremely important to the company. “Jaguar has a great history in South Africa – and I cannot think of a better place to drive fast!” he notes.

“Clearly the luxury market is relatively small in South Africa. Furthermore, economic challenges have depressed this market over the last few years. But it is important to us that we rebuild the Jaguar brand in South Africa. I believe that we are achieving this; we have great dealers and the South African team is doing a superb job.”

When it comes to the dealers, there is little doubt that O’Driscoll’s statement is true. In line with the reveal of the XJ and the launch of future new engines and products, Jaguar dealers around South Africa are upgrading their facilities, and have collectively committed to invest R20 million on enhancing their dealerships. Furthermore, a new dealership will open in Windhoek, Namibia, this month (October 2010) to service that important market.

Allied to this, O’Driscoll notes that the brand new XJ exceeds expectations in the South African market (this is not surprising; it has been very well received in every market in which it has been launched). “The average annual sales of XJ in South Africa over the past eight years were 48 units.

We have already sold 45 units – in just two months since launch,” he reveals. In addition, XK sales remain strong, and have been buoyed by the launch of the Black Pack Speed Pack Limited Edition.

This vehicle features an even more exhilarating engine (it boasts an extra 10 kW), different aerodynamic pack and enhanced brake ability. Dealers report that this car, which customer’s rate as “must have”, is flying off showroom floors. Furthermore, the XF continues to maintain its market share, with an increase in demand for diesel-engine derivatives.

O’Driscoll says that this situation is by design and not default; it has been a result of a concerted and conscious effort on behalf of the Jaguar team. “We started revitalising Jaguar in 2008, with the introduction of the XF – that was our first significantly new model. Then came the XK in 2009 – this epitomises our aspirations to build beautiful fast cars. The process was completed with the launch of XJ in 2010,” he relates.

Evidence of the all new Jaguar brand could be seen on the Jaguar stand at the recent 2010 Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris – or the Paris Motor Show as it’s commonly known. Indicative of Jaguar’s new product strategy, the company revealed the spectacular Jaguar C-X75 Concept, to co-incide with the celebration of 75 years of Jaguar. O’Driscoll says that this car is in keeping with the company’s heritage. “We made our name building sports cars.

At our heart we are a sporting company – whether those cars are for the road or track.” Having said this, he was elated at the response to the C-X75. “Delighted would not adequately explain my feelings at the reaction to the concept car. The stand was just buzzing. It is great that Jaguar is back in the limelight,” he comments.

He’s equally delighted with the reaction of car buyers to the rest of the range. “On a year-to-date basis, sales are 40% up,” he reports. The United Kingdom, of course, remains a pivotal market for the brand. “And we are doing very well there,” O’Driscoll points out. The United States is still the company’s largest export market.

“On a year-to-date basis, sales are up. But that market has been very tough,” O’Driscoll comments. “At its peak, the American car and truck industry stood at 17 million units; it’s now down to 11.5 million. However he says that this scenario is not unique to the United States. “Market conditions have been difficult in many of the mature markets; southern Europe has also been tough,” he comments.

On the other hand, the Asian market is showing considerable potential. “It is not an easy market; the XF faces off against locally built, lower priced long wheelbase competitors. The XK, on the other hand, is a two-door sports car and the sports sector has not developed in China yet.

The size of vehicles is extremely important in that market because many customers have drivers. As such, they want space but they don’t necessarily want big and powerful engines. The vehicle with the most potential in that market right now is the XJ long wheelbase model – because its rivals are also imported,” O’Driscoll reveals.

He says that China is going to be a significant market for Jaguar. “We see some real growth coming from this market in the future. Last year we sold 2 000 units in China; we will sell 3 500 this year.” Does this mean that Jaguar will follow in the footsteps of many of its rivals and establish a factory in China?

“That is not on the cards in the short term,” O’Driscoll responds. “It is just too early in our development in that market; we have only just formed the national sales company in China. But we are not ruling this out. We are looking at what we need to do in China in order to grow our business over the next few years; that may or may not include local manufacture.”

However, one thing is certain when it comes to Jaguar’s future: customers can expect to see new vehicles and engine derivatives making their appearance. “We said that we would rebuild Jaguar and I believe that we have achieved this. That was phase one in terms of the ‘new’ Jaguar. Phase two will involve broadening the product portfolio,” O’Driscoll says.

According to the Jaguar MD, there are two new vehicles on the company’s product radar: a sports car and a sports sedan positioned below the XF. “We will also grow our range of engines. We have a preponderance of larger displacement engines (both petrol and diesel). Given the challenges of meeting the expectations of customers (in terms of improved economy) and also meeting emissions legislation, we believe that there is considerable merit in the introduction of smaller displacement engines,” he explains.

Hybrids and range-extended electric vehicles could also come in the future – although O’Driscoll does not want to be drawn into specific timing for these products. “We are evaluating a lot of different technologies but you will certainly see Jaguar develop electric-based solutions in the future – and hybrids in the interim.” Irrespective of what vehicles Jaguar launches though, they will have some traits in common. “We will continue to offer a unique twist on luxury, and cars that are both beautiful and fast,” O’Driscoll notes.

These cars will appeal to buyers in major cities the world over. “We are increasingly focusing on cities rather than countries – because our customers are concentrated in major cities. In France, for instance, 40 to 50% of our sales take place in Paris. In South Africa, the majority of our sales occur in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Two American cities – New York and Los Angeles – account for 30% of our sales in that country.

“For me, that is intriguing. There is increasing connectivity between the residents of the major cities in the world. And, irrespective of where they live, the affluent and successful buy into our brand – because they are looking for the style, sophistication and sporting characteristics that define Jaguar,” O’Driscoll concludes.

It is abundantly clear that while Jaguar is acutely aware of its proud heritage, it is once again building cars that redefine sporting luxury.