Archive : Can Mike Dale fix Jaguar – again?

FORTUNE
By MARK M. COLODNY

These must be humbling times for the legendary automaker that Ford Motor bought last year for $2.5 billion. The latest J.D. Power quality poll of owners ranks Jaguar No. 28 of the 29 cars surveyed. Only Korea’s Hyundai — which, at prices that start at $6,300, costs some $33,000 less — did worse.

Complaints about the reliability of Jaguars seem to be part of owning one. Earlier this year, the company recalled all the 1988 and 1989 models it has sold in the U.S. Leaking brake fluid was an engine fire hazard. By the time of the recall, sales, which had picked up from 3,000 cars a year in 1980 to 24,000 in 1986, had already dropped to 19,000.

All of these problems have a familiar ring to British-born Michael Dale, 55, the airplane collector and weekend flier who is president of Jaguar Cars, the U.S. subsidiary. Dale was head of Jaguar’s American sales when the company was British owned, and launched the previous turnaround strategy. Among other things, he bucked conventional automaker thought, buying out nearly 50% of the 250 dealers, going after those who flubbed repairs.

That cut down the number of times a customer had to make repeat visits to the dealer with the same problem. Jag and other importers face not only a weak dollar but also the challenge from Toyota’s Lexus. Dale hopes that Ford can help Jaguar make more reliable cars in its British plant. But he’s not counting on a bottomless wallet. ”They’re not the International Red Cross,” he says. For his part, Dale is putting his salespeople and mechanics through extra training and trying to hold down prices. Does Dale think this will be enough?

Says he: ”Compared with the other Europeans, we’re doing well. It would be easy to read into this that Jaguar is in a reasonably safe position. But I don’t believe anyone is safe.”

Keith Adams

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