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Can JLR do an Audi…?

By / 6 years ago / Features / No Comments

“There is space in the market for the XE” considers JLR MD Jeremy Hicks. “I think of it as a bit like the new kid going to school, coming across the three big kids terrorising the playground, and lumping them on the nose.”

“The big thing with fleet is whole-life costs; running costs, cost of funding and residual values,” he continues. “And we know we”re in a really good place with all of those…”

“Running costs? 75mpg. 99g/km. CO2? Great for Benefit in Kind. Funding costs? Properly competitive through our own in-house financial services. Residual values? CAP gives us 45% over three years or 30,000 miles; that”s best-in-class and 8% better than the BMW 3 Series. Done.

“We don”t have a smaller compact in the Jaguar range,” he admits. “But very few fleet lists now are made up of just one manufacturer”s model range. They offer multiple brand choice these days. Likewise, gone are the days when fleets would tip up to a manufacturer and say “We”ll buy all our cars from you; what are your terms?””

“Today, the driver has a lot more power. He”s saying “It used to be a genuine perk wherein the taxation never really represented the true benefit. It does now, so I”m going to choose, and I want that car.””

“Moreover, badge and driving experience do still carry considerable kudos in the fleet market,” considers Hicks. “We”ve spent a lot of time talking to not only the drivers but also the leasing companies that supply so many of the cars in the sector, and the message is clear; it”s got to have car park credibility.”

“And that”s why the XE is so important to us. Go back to 2008 when the company had a near-death experience… The thing that wasn”t cut was the product development budget. And that means we now have consistent new model availability; XF, F-Type, new XE and the F-Pace coming…”

Jaguar dealers have also been gearing up for the XE launch. “Truth is, we”ve had a job to do with our network,” admits Hicks. “But we”ve been working hard with them now for the past 18 months, preparing for growth, preparing them for fleet corporate business. We now have 30 fleet specialists (out of 90 dealerships) across the country…

“They have to have a fleet department, a fleet manager, fleet demos. We lay out our requirements very clearly: respond to any enquiry within two hours, service a car within five days of a booking call, provide courtesy cars, a collection and delivery service, wash and vacuum every car serviced… We mystery shop every retailer every month to check.”

“We”ve got the car. We”ve got the brand. We”ll do it,” says Hicks. “The XE completely transforms our business.” With Jaguar currently selling 18,000 cars per annum in the UK, and 83,000 globally, Hicks won”t put a figure against that transformation. But it does very much look as if the company is gearing up to double its annual production.

 

The XE factor

Anthony Ffrench-Constant tries out a prototype of the new XE. Are first impressions good?

 

So keen is Jaguar to stress that the XE I”m driving – the company”s long-awaited riposte to the all-conquering Teutonic triumvirate of mid-sized premium executives from BMW, Mercedes and Audi- is not quite finished, that they”ve plastered the word “Prototype” all over it.

Though this smacks somewhat of pre-match nerves, Jaguar may be forgiven such jitters in the context of a car that probably boasts more all-new content than anything else we”ve driven in an age; new, 75% aluminium platform, new “Ingenium” 2.0 litre diesel from a new engine factory, new electric steering, new integrated multi-link rear suspension, all bolted together on a new production line.

Indeed, perhaps the least new element of the XE is its looks. It is a handsome enough machine, particularly in the bow department, where pop-up bonnet pyrotechnics satisfy pedestrian impact legislation whilst keeping the profile pleasingly low. But, in terms of a handsome frontage backed up by a sub-royal wedding bridesmaid standard rump, it has more in common with the XF than the eye-catching XJ.

On board, a clean, straightforward dashboard design boasts some nice details, such as the way the outer air vents cut deep into the door panels. But, to this eye, the centre console styling lacks showmanship, reminding me more of the paddle used to remove your Veneziana with extra pepperoni and anchovies from the wood-fired oven than a high-tech nerve centre.

Happily, however, the new multimedia touch screen is a vast improvement on its clunky predecessor (though still lagging behind class-leaders) and, though I personally dislike the angular steering wheel switchgear ergonomics, all other instrumentation is clear and functional.

The driving position isn”t quite ideal for this somewhat hastily constructed individual. The seat – as in all JLR vehicles – remains an area for improvement. Though streets better than an F-Type in the comfort stakes, it”s still not good enough to assuage my desire to shoehorn a Mercedes-sourced alternative into place. Lob into the equation a steering wheel that doesn”t adjust low or far back enough, and it all feels just a whiff compromised. This is something a high-mileage fleet driver might well be put off by.

Rear seat accommodation is adequate rather than lavish, but competitive with the class average, unlike the boot capacity, which gives away some 25 litres to both the 3 Series and C-Class.

There are, though, no such issues with the driving experience. Returning an average fuel consumption of 67.3mpg and generating CO2 emissions of 109g/km, the new 2.0 litre turbodiesel delivers a healthy 178bhp and 317 lb ft of torque (fuel and CO2 figures for the lesser, 163bhp alternative dip to 75mpg and just 99g/km), delivered to the rear wheels with all the oleaginous efficiency you”d expect of an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission. This equates to 0-62mph in a lively 7.4 seconds, and a top speed of 142mph.

Power delivery is appropriately smooth, eager and effortless, though I should mention a tad more noise from the engine bay in the cruise than is strictly seemly; an issue which will, hopefully, be addressed before the car goes on sale in May.

Jaguar”s first outing with electric power-assisted steering feels a little elastic in top dead centre driving, but performs remarkably well when called into action, delivering all the effortless consistency, smoothness and accuracy we”ve come to expect from a Jaguar helm.

Saving the best until last, both the XE”s ride and handling are rather marvellous. Even in the stiffer R-Sport guise I sampled, the front double wishbone and expensive rear integrated multi-link suspension systems gang up with a bodyshell 20% stiffer than that of the XF to deliver a delightfully fluent, stable and comfortable high speed cruise allied to truly engaging handling.

The undercarriage”s ability to wash away even quite nasty looking road surface imperfections whilst still delivering crisp turn-in, stacks of grip and grin-generating agility remains one of Jaguar”s strongest suits. Class-leading dynamics? Well, a back-to-back comparison is called for, but don”t be surprised to hear the sounds of Teutonic perch toppling in the near future…

Armed with the hapless X-Type, Jaguar”s first excursion into this keenly contested segment was an unwholesome foray at best. At the second time of asking, the company has at least given itself the tools with which to do the job properly.

 

 

THIS CAN PROB BE ANOTHER FEATURE?

 

How JLR can thrive

Jaguar Land Rover has ambitious growth plans, but can it match the spectacular fleet growth the German premium brands have managed over the past decade. Steve Moody assesses it chances, and what it needs to do.

 

JLR needs more production flexibility

Huge investment at the Solihull plant and a new engine building factory at Wolverhampton should allow JLR to tailor its production to market needs more specifically, cut lead times and end its reliance on engines from other manufacturers.

400,000 new Ingenium engines will be built annually in Wolverhampton, and control of the production of its own petrol and diesel engines, rather than relying on supply from BMW and PSA, allows JLR to grow without being capacity constrained.

In Solihull, traditionally the home of Land Rover, huge industrial expansion has taken place to house XE, including a 54,000 square metre body-in-white production facility, as well as a final trim and assembly plant too.

Also, an unprecedented £4 billion will be ploughed into research and development annually to bring new products and technology to market, while new factories in Brazil and China will take some of the pressure of feeding global growth off the local UK production, by allowing more flexibility and shorter lead times.

 

A new nationwide fleet team

Historically JLR had a relatively small fleet team compared to the other premium brands, although this has changed dramatically. A 25-strong local fleet and business team has been appointed, for a start. The retailer-based team will mean that small businesses and user choosers – who are often neglected by manufacturers – find they are treated in just the same way as retail customers.

As part of a major global investment made in fleet and business, four senior-level managers have been appointed across both brands at head office, while the UK field-based sales team has grown from 16 to 22, implementing a new direct sales approach for large fleets.

 

Less retail

JLR has always been a strong retail brand, but to grow the focus will have to shift. Chris Newitt, Jaguar Land Rover UK sales director, says: “For the first couple of years we expect to see 45% fleet for total XE sales, and in the UK, we will have a cap on XE of 20% within group registrations and short cycle business.

“We want to rebalance our over-reliance on retail and want to keep pushing retail but in a considered, sustainable way.”

One of the reasons for the attractiveness of more corporate sales is that in economically tough time, retail sales tend to fall much faster than business sales. Fleet gives the business greater stability.

 

Change market perceptions

Fleets need to see that Jaguar cars have extremely competitive whole-life costs, and this has not always been the case.

Ken Forbes, Jaguar Land Rover global fleet and business director, explains: “Jaguar Land Rover has been seen as too expensive and lacking the cars that get us into the user chooser market. It”s not true, but perception is all so we need to break that down. We need to let fleets understand that we have products that compete from 3 Series through SUVs to luxury.

“Total cost of ownership has to be embedded in the DNA of the cars. It is fundamental to fleet and it now sits at the heart of our product planning.”

Sort out the dealer network

While Land Rover”s dealer network has been fairly swimming in money in the past decade, Jaguar”s has been less well-served, and will need to significantly upgrade if it is to handle a flood of new fleet business.

Chris Newitt, Jaguar Land Rover UK sales director says: “We have got the network on five and 10-year capacity plans to 2020, looking at what is the requirement of their sites, people and funding lines. When you enter into fleet and business you need to know how you fund the business in terms of stock flow, which is an issue the German brands had to face as they grew. Those plans are in place and have been worked on.

“I don”t believe the size of the facilities is an issue as they used to sell more cars, but getting staff is important. We have taken people from BMW, Audi and other fleet businesses, and I think that JLR is a very desirable place to work at the moment.”

 

It still needs more product

JLR says there will be around 50 new launches of product and engines over the next five years, and even with the likes of new Defender, Jaguar F-Pace and Convertible Evoque in the next year or so, JLR still has some way to go if it is to match the portfolio of products the German brands can offer fleet, not just in what drivers can choose, but in the way it allows business to spread residual value risk across a wide range of vehicles.

But if XE and Discovery Sport are indications of the strength of future products, then significant growth is surely likely.

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