I have spent the last twelve months driving a British racing green Jaguar XJ8 as my daily transport-on those days when I wasn’t at the wheel of one of my own cars or one of the thirty or forty test cars that pass through my hands each year. I fell in love with the then-new XJ8 on a test trip in Tennessee and Kentucky for our September 2003 issue, during which we compared it-hour by hour and mile by mile-to a BMW 745i, an Audi A8, and a Mercedes-Benz S430. It was quick and agile and sinfully comfortable, and its J-gate manual shifter was superior to most of the paddles and toggles offered by the competition. The 13,000 XJ8 miles I have accumulated since have added up to an altogether satisfactory driving experience. J. D. Power studies support me in this view, putting it among the best in survey after survey. I even insisted on driving it the 600-plus miles back to the Jaguar office in New Jersey, rather than turn it over to the guy from the car service and watch it disappear down my driveway. Breaking up is hard to do.
I spoke to old friend Brock Yates. He now owns his second Jaguar XJ8, and he rapturously recounted a tale about driving home from a dinner party a couple of nights earlier. Mrs. Yates had nodded off in the passenger seat, and he was cruising through moonlit farmland at speeds somewhere north of 80 mph. He and his XJ8 renewed their vows on that journey. Brock was one of a dozen friends I called for enlightenment this week, because I don’t understand why a car this good should be having problems in the marketplace-and Jaguar is having some problems.
A Wall Street Journal story pointed out that Jaguar suffers from very low productivity, using three plants with a total of 8560 workers to build 126,122 cars in 2003, or fifteen cars per worker. In the same year, Volvo employed fewer than 5500 workers in a single plant to build 158,466 cars, or twenty-nine cars per worker, and a mere 4500 workers at BMW’s British Mini plant cranked out 174,000 Minis. This is a classic case study in British labor relations, and Jaguar workers will be forced to choose between greater flexibility on plant closings and work rules, or unemployment.
My panel of experts was unanimous in affection for the XJ8 but equally unanimous in agreement regarding the bad effects of the X-type. It is-in all candor-difficult to imagine a seasoned Jaguar executive rushing into a marketing meeting shouting, “Here’s what we need, you guys: a high-content, all-wheel-drive version of the Ford Contour!” The X-type is the Jaguar nobody asked for. It is also true that the XK8 coupe and convertible have gotten old and are not attracting showroom traffic in useful numbers. The weakness of the American dollar against European currencies is also a problem for Jaguar, but it’s surely no worse than for Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Several people I called suggested that the current all-aluminum XJ8, which has the technology and the performance to have carried Jaguar into the automotive ionosphere, simply wasn’t arresting enough from a design standpoint-that it should have looked as completely new on the outside as it actually is on the inside. One cynic eyed the one I was driving and asked, “Is that the new Buick XJ8 or the new Jaguar Park Avenue Ultra?”
I also wonder if Americans are uncomfortable saying “JAG-yew-ar.” God knows I am. “JAG-yew-ar” is one of those characteristically British mispronunciations, like “al-yew-MINI-yum,” that make no sense at all, but we defer to the speaker because he’s a Brit, and he thinks we’re barbarians, and he intimidates us. It would not surprise me to learn that some significant percentage of American Jaguar pros-pects cannot bring themselves to say “JAG-yew-ar” and feel self-conscious about revealing their provincialism during a dealership visit.
Well, get over it, America! More than half of all Jaguars built are sold right here in the United States. The jaguar is an animal unique to North and Central America. He’s sleek and fast and beautiful, and his name was the perfect choice for this very exciting car. Furthermore, he dwells in climes where Spanish is usually the language of choice, and nobody who speaks Spanish every day is going to say “JAG-yew-ar.” Unfortunately, some Americans say “JAG-wire,” and the Proper Pronunciation Police soon will be knocking on their doors, too.