Dave Pinter: How Jaguar is Skillfully Targeting Design and Performance to Rebuild the Brand
Starting with the new F-Type, Jaguar has been using involvement in non-automotive events to promote its brand characteristics
Cats don’t really have nine lives as the saying goes, but the characteristic of felines being able to narrowly escape peril and survive is part of their mystique. Just a few years ago, many questioned whether the Jaguar brand had reached its ninth life after an unsuccessful marriage with Ford as part of the Premier Automotive Group (PAG). Cost cutting production initiatives including basing Jaguar cars off Ford platforms, a failed Formula One racing stint and never becoming profitable under Ford were all signs the brand was in trouble. Tata Motors of India purchased Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford in March 2008 for £1.15 billion in a move to save the marques, but their long term survival was very unclear.
It wasn’t until the 2010 Paris Auto show which coincided with Jaguar’s 75th anniversary that a first hint of the brands’ rebirth took shape. With a fresh injection of cash from Tata, and Jag’s design guru Ian Callum overseeing a design staff anxious to make a new mark, the C-X75 concept not only was the surprise unveiling of the show, but quickly racked up a list of design awards. Four years later, there are still calls to get the car produced, but while a new supercar Jag hasn’t appeared yet, the C-X75 did foretell the look of a smaller sports car Jaguar had in mind to relaunch the brand, which we now know is the F-Type.
The E-Type sports car (included in the Petersen Museum ‘Worlds Greatest Sports Coupes’ exhibition in 2014) was the most iconic and arguably successful car Jaguar produced. A large collector market has grown around original and restored models from the 50’s and 60’s , even the Museum of Modern Art in New York owns one for the collection. A modern version of the E-Type is what the F-type needed to be. And rather than focus on a volume car or SUV to initially boost the sales side brand, Jaguar opted to focus on a niche vehicle that had a more exciting marketing story.
To build awareness for the brand and the new car, Jaguar debuted their first ever Superbowl commercial in 2014 featuring a cast of British cinema villains and the tag line ‘It’s Good To Be Bad’. The ad was a clever way to reintroduce Jaguar and sets the tone for the brand going forward.
Following the F-type convertible launch last year, Jaguar set out to build design awareness by partnering with Wallpaper Magazine on the Wallpaper Handmade exhibition. The first two iteration of that show were held in Miami during Design/Miami and in NYC for NYCxDesign.
The exhibition included commissioned design objects created by independent designers and members of Jaguar’s in-house design staff. A special F-Type Coupe cutaway was featured at in NYC giving a glimpse of the meticulous design and engineering of the cars’ aluminum chassis.
While Jaguar isn’t involved in a factory motor racing programs currently, they are in fact part of the biggest racing event happening every July, the Tour de France. As vehicle sponsor for Team Sky, Jaguar enlisted their Special Vehicle Operations team to create a special one-off F-Type Coupe to pace Sky riders on the individual time trial stage prior to the finishing day in Paris. The car is fitted with a custom carbon fiber bike rack that can carry two Pinarello Bolide TTs.
The proof for any sports car to be good is in how it drives. Jaguar says the F-Type’s main competitor is the Porsche 911, arguably the benchmark of the category. Porsche have spent decades refining the 911 so to beat it from the start is a monumental task. We got an opportunity to find out how good the F-Type is on a drive program hosted by Jaguar in Los Angeles.
The F-Type Coupe visually follows a classic sports car approach to proportion, short overhangs, long hood, small canopy set towards the rear, and a short rear deck. Arching forms over the wheels link back to the E-type. The softer shapes of the front end don’t give it a super aggressive look but the thin rear tail lights and dual exhaust look much closer to coming from the C-X75.
The interior has a slightly retro feel as well with controls shaped more from the analog era than the digital one. On the center console adjacent to the driver is the exhaust button which when activated offers a nice throaty rumble noise from the tailpipes.
The drive route was a really special one over the Angeles Crest HIghway, a winding 66-mile ribbon of asphalt that cuts through stunning canyon landscapes and traverses mountain passes. With hardly a straight section of road though enjoying the view happens in small glimpses. The F-Type handled the sharp corners and switchbacks well, the brakes didn’t fade when pushed and the electronics didn’t noticeably detract from the driving experience.
The ride character pretty much matches the cars’ visual character. It isn’t a stiffly sprung race car disguised as a road car which means it isn’t exhausting to drive long distances. Bumps aren’t bone rattling either. But the more ‘comfortable’ ride does lack some of the preciseness of feel that German rivals strive so hard to achieve.
To get a better feel of the performance limits of the F-Type Coupe, our destination was the Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, CA. Here, we got to experience some ride-along laps with pro drivers including former Indy car winner Roberto Guerrero. They demonstrated a seemingly effortless smooth driving approach which in practice is incredibly difficult to master as we experienced during our turn at the wheel.
There was also an opportunity to test the traction control system on a skid pad, basically a big section of pavement covered in water. With the system off and all the power from the V8 going through the rear wheels, it was pretty easy to spin out when the gas pedal was mashed. With the system on, the car limits the amount of power going from the engine to the rear wheels to maintain control, even when the gas is floored.
While Jaguar hopes to go head to head with the Porsche 911, the F-Type is really a different kind of car. The target buyer age for both is in the early 60’s and clearly Jaguar has taken this into account by providing a more comfortable ride. Amongst car folk, more power is better but between the F-Type’s two engine choices, a V8 or V6, the V6 felt better and more practical on the street. Rather than churning track laps, it is a car more suited for cruising and having fun on some twisty roads. Jaguar isn’t about overt technical innovation in the degree as BMW, Audi or Porsche which puts the F-Type in a unique spot. Buyers looking for a sports car without having to have an engineering degree to drive it should find something both familiar and new in the F-Type.
Images: Dave Pinter, Jaguar
Jaguar provided travel to Los Angeles and a hotel room at The London to facilitate our F-Type Coupe drive.