The Battle of Britain was waged in the skies above England in the summer and fall of 1940, the stakes being no less mo-mentous, in Winston Churchill's rousing formulation, than "the survival of Christian civilization . . . our own British life . . . and our Empire."
Sixty-five years later, we're here to witness another Battle of Britain, this time on a whole different continent, at the edge of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, a place where one looks down, not up. But we're doing neither, gazing instead straight ahead at the all-new-for-2007 Jaguar XK coupe and convertible. Later, as the sun is setting, we survey the landscape spreading out before us, framed through the windshield by the Jaguar's long, sloping hood. Suddenly, the battle ahead seems fraught with danger and emotion.
OK, our prose is trending deeply purple. We admit it, the stakes today are less critical than those Churchill faced, such as the future of the free world. So sue us. We're correspondents in the battle we fear will decide the continued viability of Jaguar Cars. Which may not be a matter of life and death for most folks, but it's certainly a top-of-the-list item of concern for the entirety of the auto-enthusiast world.
For, it so happens, Jaguar exists to mark the time and place where Christian civilization, the British Empire, and British life once came together (and sometimes still come) to give their Lord and their lords, as well as the rest of the free world, some of our most evocative sports cars, our most timeless and romantic automotive ideals. The plan, as laid down by Sir William Lyons, was also to make some bleedin' money along the way. Regrettably, that last part is proving even more elusive than the first.
Jaguar's proprietor (since 1990) hails from Dearborn, Michigan, so the firm is technically no longer a British concern. Yet Jaguar, the money-losing-est division of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, has also become the world's leading volume maker of very British cars. An accolade that sounds more encouraging than it is, really.
Which may be part of why there was unease in the air when we got to the XK launch in Scottsdale. It wasn't just the smog inversion in the Phoenix basin that had put the city on air-pollution high alert. And while it could have been my aftershave, a couple of precedent facts emitted a stronger odor. The X-type has tanked. The very fine XJ has wallowed. Would not any kind of duff XK launch constitute strike three and you're out? Was Shaguar losing its mojo for good? It was something to think about, at least.
It seems pertinent to mention here that Jaguar has not actually made money in decades and has suffered some of its greatest losses only recently. It is clearly a most magical brand, however, the truth of which fact is proven by another fact-that's a mighty long time for any company to lose money yet still attract investment. Jaguar is that company.
One of capitalism's great anomalies, Jaguar hasn't made Ford a tuppance in the sixteen years they've owned it. It wouldn't be strange for them to sell it. On the other hand, it wouldn't be strange if they kept it, either. Jaguar's name, as noted, is magic, fully electric, larger than life, and, as an engineering entity, the company-like PAG's Volvo and Land Rover but unlike General Motors' eviscerated Saab-really does have some special chops it can call its own.
Nonetheless, Ford's best-laid plans for the British luxury maker, such as the ones that involved quadrupling sales to 200,000 cars per annum, officially lie in tatters, as Jaguar missed the lofty sales target set for it by nearly half. It's easy to see why. After the predictable non-success of the not-special-enough X-type of 2001 was established, checked, and then checked again, the revolutionary and excellent XJ sedan made of aluminum was unaccountably sent to market in 2003 with vibe-killer styling, which caused sales to lag from the start.