The Jaguar has changed its spots

After years of being plagued with faults the marque is back on track, writes David Bowen

BOB ST GERMAIN was in the Jaguar dealership in White Plains, New York State, on Friday, picking up his new car. "A year ago you couldn't have given me a Jaguar," he said. "I had a 1992 model before and it was horrible. It had a couple of engine jobs, electrical problems - you name it."

So why is he buying a new one? "It's a different car. I read the consumer reports and they said everything had been fixed. And I've driven a Lexus and a Mercedes and I didn't like them - so I've bought a new Jag."

This is music to the ears of Jaguar's managers in Coventry, and to its ultimate bosses at Ford in Detroit. If Mr St Germain's views are typical, it seems the Americans are prepared to forgive and forget the pain the British big cat has inflicted on them in the past.

After decades of unfulfilled promise, the good times really do seem about to roll for Jaguar. In the last month it has unveiled its elegant new sports car, the XK8, and last week the EU agreed that the British government can give it an pounds 80m grant, which will allow it to start building its new small saloon in the West Midlands in 1998.

According to the consultancy DRI/McGraw-Hill, the company's production should rise from 41,000 cars this year to 80,000 in the year 2000. Garel Rhys, motor industry professor at Cardiff Business School, believes that even this figure is modest. The upgraded factories should have a capacity of about 140,000 a year on a single shift, and more like 200,000 on a double shift. "The possibilities for growth are pretty dramatic," he says.

But the ability of Jaguar to sell much higher numbers depends in large part on whether Mr St Germain's compatriots are as convinced as he that the beast really has changed its spots.

The Jaguar has never had a good reputation for being well made, but it was not until the Eighties that the gap with other cars became embarrassing. When John Egan took over in 1982, he used the weakness of the pound to push the cars hard into the US. Sales there went from 5,100 in 1981 to 24,500 in 1986. The workforce rose, too, from 7,000 to 12,000. But fundamental industrial relations, quality and productivity problems remained untackled. "That was when we had real horror stories," Prof Rhys says. US dealers told stories of selling a car on a Friday, fully expecting to see it back again on Monday morning with its apoplectic owner in attendance.

The company, floated in 1984, launched its new saloon in 1986 on a shoestring, spending less on development than Mercedes did on the rear axle and suspension alone of its new C-Class. At the same time, Americans were being tempted by the superiorJapanese Lexus, and US sales started to drop. By 1990 they were down to 18,700 - then the recession hit and they collapsed, bottoming out at 8,700 in 1992.

Ford bought Jaguar in 1989, but it was only when the latest XJ saloons were launched in 1994 that owners noticed any difference. Thanks to massive investment, streamlined production, and the disappearance of the last militant workers during the recession, Jaguar had finally joined the modern automotive age. US consumer reports have shown that the cars have improved to a startling extent. Many Americans have always preferred the Jaguar's styling and leather-and-walnut feel to the more utilitarian German and Japanese offerings. Now they could have these and a car that worked properly.

A possible restraint on sales could be the shortage of dealers. But Prof Rhys says Ford will tackle this: "I expect it to designate some of its outlets as Jaguar dealers to increase access."

However, Ford will have to be careful how it markets the new smaller car. It will share its fundamental design with a model made in the US, possibly a Lincoln. Keeping up the impression that it is a British car through-and-through will require all the company's ingenuity. Meanwhile customers who want to buy the last all-British Jaguar should snap up an XK8, which goes on sale in the autumn.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

Technical Support Analyst (C++, Windows, Linux, Perl, Graduate)

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global leader in trading platforms and e...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice