Musings on the Motoring World

RIP Jaguar XJ – What went wrong?

It is peculiar that in today’s marketing-saturated world where every big-name product is celebrated with the sort of adoration previously reserved for royalty, that Jaguar chose to shuffle the XJ out to pasture last month without so much of a whimper. It is almost as though the big old cat was spirited away to a basement by Bolshevik revolutionaries. Well for the time being anyway, as Jaguar promises that it is working on a revolutionary new replacement in the wings. 

If Jaguar’s assurances to a select group of judges are anything to go by, the next XJ will be an all-new all-electric replacement that will storm the market sometime in the middle of next year. That is, of course, unless Jaguar Land Rover’s recent financial woes were to torpedo those plans. 

For now, the longest-running nameplate in Jaguar’s history is effectively dead at 51 years with only four descendants in its genealogy. For a name of such distinction, you would think that Jaguar would indulge it with a little more pomp, but there will be no such thing. Perhaps the troubling clouds of uncertainty gathering over the company is bearing heavily on the company’s prospects. 

Though looking at the fourth-generation XJ – internally known as the X351 – in its twilight years, it seems fair for the XJ to bow out in an understated manner as the company’s think tanks scramble to make light of the model’s decline. Many of the Jaguar’s tweed-wearing traditionalist tea drinkers would point their pipes at the X351’s unorthodox design as the chief failing of the car. Then again these are the same caste who was quick to chastise Bangle’s fourth-generation E65 7 Series, which went on to make bank for BMW. 

Pundits might argue that as a German marque – with the implied reputation for build quality and penchant for cramming in the latest tech – the BMW brand itself was a springboard from which Bangle’s avantgarde E60 5 Series and E65 7 Series would achieve its sales successes. In that regard, Jaguar’s tarnished reputation of lacking in the build quality department might have had more to do with the XJ’s woes than the sleight of Ian Callum’s pen. 

Adding to that, it also didn’t help that Jaguar seemed to hold onto some retrograde thoughts when it came to the luxury limousine market. For five decades the Jaguar flagship had always prided itself as being a comfy well-balanced sedan with a penchant for being a delight to drive. That being said, over the intervening years the XJ grew from a four-door sedan into a flagship limousine with smaller models like the S-Type and XF filling in for the XJ’s original scope. 

Trouble is, Jaguar didn’t quite grasp the market nuances of what that shift meant. Being traditionalists, Jaguar set the course of the X351’s development towards a limousine that catered to the driver, bucking the trends with a continued emphasis on driving dynamics over tech features. A noble goal in itself to win the thoughts of opinion makers, but ultimately it did jack all when it came to winning over the hearts of luxury limousine buyers. 

Where its immediate German rivals wowed the crowds with its spec sheets full of snazzy tech to take the stress out of driving, Jaguar waxed lyrical about the XJ’s futuristic looks and amazing lightweight body and chassis finesse, while steering the curious away from its lack of luxuries for anyone who isn’t the driver. In other eras, this would just have been not an uncommon strategy to stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately for Jaguar, times had changed remarkably.

By the time the XJ was rolled out, China was on its way towards becoming the world’s largest new car market, surpassing the United States in 2010. Its car population expanded nearly four times bigger than experts had predicted at the turn of the millennium, an indicator of the pent up economic potential the Middle Kingdom had. Over in Europe, Jaguar’s European compatriots knew full well what this sea change meant – the centre of the car market was no longer over the Atlantic between Europe and North America as it had been since the end of World War II but over the Pacific between North America and China. 

Gone were the days of the owner-driver of big luxury cars. These days the only people who can stump up the money for such a car are from largely-urbanised regions who know little of the desire to drive beyond negotiating crowded cities and clogged motorway networks. They hail from a world where handling characteristics are of little concern, whereas the latest tech and features that only serve to magnify a limousine’s role as a status symbol were the de jure of the day. In a field of tech-laden uber limousines, the XJ was hopelessly outclassed. 

In retrospect, had Jaguar been more aware of the shifts in customer preferences and strategised accordingly, the XJ would have stood as an amazing hereditary record of the changing tastes of society much like the rings of a tree stump, much like the S-Class. Instead, the oldest luxury nameplate in the business became a fossilised record of an era the world has since moved on from.

All things considered, perhaps it is wise for the XJ nameplate to take a hiatus while its masters ready something that is more in line with the market zeitgeist. Until then, a dignified abdication of a flagship would be the right thing for Jaguar to do.

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