Jaguar is fighting back after being badly beaten up in recent years, its new boss has claimed.
And Geoff Cousins, managing director of Jaguar UK, said he was confident Indian owner Tata had bought the company “for the right reasons”.
Jaguar was now about building sports and saloon cars, making a profit from smaller production volumes.
Speaking at the Breakfast Connections event run by Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Birmingham Forward, and held at the Botanical Gardens, he said Jaguar wanted to be known as a luxury brand that happened to make cars.
There remained a great affection for it and a lot of goodwill towards the business.
For example, the XK sports model was “an emotional purchase rather than a rational one”.
Jaguar, he acknowledged, faced big challenges and was still behind some of its premier competitors. Perceptions were not all they should be – the XJ, with its aluminium body, was a technologically advanced car, but, because of its retro styling, some people though it to be low tech.
It is the next to be re-launched following the XK and the new XF and that would give the firm “three highly desirable cars”.
There were environmental and energy issues. “The car industry is under a lot of pressure on CO2 and economy.
“Jaguar has done a lot of work in the last five years and there have been big improvements on fuel economy.”
It had been named the greenest luxury car, but it was a luxury car. We cannot compete with a Micra or a Punto. We are what we are. It is a huge challenge but we are winning on it,” Mr Cousins added.
The mission had to be to build beautiful and fast cars.
“They have to be seductive, look great, but they have to work,” he said.
They had to be competitive and have design leadership, building on the sports heritage of Sir William Lyons while getting rid of stereotypes like the 50s and ‘slippers’ image.
They had to be contemporary – proactive, powerful, vibrant and innovative.
Mr Cousins admitted: “We have been on the back foot for a long time. We have been beaten up.”
But the XF had given confidence to everyone at the company and everyone at the dealers. “We have a car as good as anyone else’s.”
And he insisted: “I believe we are going in the right way.”
Jaguars had to have a sports car heart but not be out of place while “doing the shopping”. Exteriors, under design director Ian Cullum, were sexy and original, but interiors were probably equally important.
“Exteriors pull you in; interiors sell it to you.”
Meanwhile it was important that technology empowered the driver rather than “challenge them every day to work it out”.
Mr Cousins also acknowledged that Jaguar had been loss making. “In the last few years Jaguar has been struggling to make money.”
But he insisted: “We are well into our revitalisation plan and we are making good progress.”
Talking about Jaguar’s return to being a niche producer – the X-type had taken it more into volume, a move which proved to be a disaster – Mr Cousins said it was about quality rather than quantity.
The health of the brand was measured by its residual values and in the past Jaguar had allowed those to slip, leaving Mercedes as the best. That was now changing and in order to keep residuals high Jaguar had reduced dealer stocks over the last 18 months by 35 per cent. It had meant taking some “financial pain” but had to be done.
The aim now was to make a profit on selling 80,000 cars a year, down from 130,000 at its peak. Porsche did it and was very profitable and so was motorcycle maker Harley Davidson.
Expanding on the luxury emphasis, Mr Cousins said: “We cannot skimp on cost. You get it right or don’t do it at all.
“Jaguar is a large brand worldwide but we are a small company. We have tried to act like a big company in the past when in fact we were a little one.”
The company’s advertisements now had “added lifestyle” and the business was linking with other luxury brands including the likes of Selfridges and upmarket bank Coutts.
So, for example, Coutts wanted to do a track day for some of its customers and Jaguar was laying it on.
Jaguar was also linking with Birmingham and Coventry chambers of commerce and the Institute of Asian Businesses.
It could not afford to sponsor big golf events but was working with Lee Westwood.
Cricketer Monty Panesar was being given a car and in return he would do the occasional dinner for customers.
However, this was selective. “Everyone wants VIPs but some are a pain,” said Mr Cousins. “Some promise the world but deliver nothing.”
No longer did Jaguar give cars away to such people. They still did deals with some but on special lease terms.
Admitting that Jaguar still had to convince some customers who remembered the company’s quality issues, he went on: “We have to up the ante and raise the bar. Service has to be exceptional. Salesmen sell the first car but it is service that sells the second, third and fourth.”
However, Jaguar was now winning quality awards, particularly in the US and Germany. Saying Tata understood the strategy – both Jaguar and Tata have been working closely with Warwick Manufacturing Group – he noted: “I am convinced they have bought the brand for the right reasons.”