Jaguar sell-off. Gavin Green on the problems at Jag

Published: 02 July 2007

Many blame Ford for Jag’s problems. Gavin Green says problems run deeper than that

As the one-time greatest name in British motoring limps like a mortally wounded wildcat to its new home (private equity or Indian car maker seem the hot favourites), it is worth reflecting on how Ford screwed up the jewel in the UK automotive crown.

Blame the X-type! Blame the S-type! Blame Halewood! Blame the Americans (after all, they’re to blame for everything else)!

Except of course that Jaguar was in a mess when Ford took it over in 1989. Its $2.5 billion purchase price was crazily inflated, a corollary of a tug of war from the world’s two biggest and then richest car makers (Ford v GM) desperate to gobble up premium car makers. Ford won. Or, more accurately (we now know), lost.

It bought a company that had appalling quality, appallingly outdated trade union practices and an appallingly antiquated factory. There were two cars on sale only and neither was much good. The XJ6 – the XJ40 series – was probably the most unreliable car in Jaguar history. The only other car Jaguar then made, the XJS, was probably the second most unreliable car in Jaguar history as well as the ugliest.

Within a decade, Ford-owned Jaguar overtook BMW and Mercedes in quality – as measured by JD Power – and had launched the first achingly beautiful XK. The new XK, which came out last year, is the best sports car made in Britain, beating any Aston Martin.

The lightweight aluminium technology in which Jaguar is now world leader helped make the XK and latest XJ – pity that retro style! – among the world’s best cars. The XJ is so light and agile that it weighs a whole Lotus Elise less than a Volkswagen Phaeton (that paragon of German technology).

Sure, the Ford-Jaguar team made loads of cock-ups, principally that very uncool retro design that lumbered the XJ, X and S with the ‘old man’s car’ tag. And they opened two new factories too many.

But without Ford there almost certainly would be no Jaguar today. I just hope the new owners do as good a job with the cars and the technology – while having rather more success with the finances.

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience