News : August 2007

The new Jaguar XF

By Alexander Boucke

Numerous spyshots have caught Jaguar’s new XF being tested recently, clearly showing that the launch of this car, one so important for Jaguar, is getting closer. Today Jaguar has released the first official pictures showing details of the car. Jaguar claims that this is the beginning of a new era for the car maker.

The new design language first shown with the XK sports cars, has been extended to a saloon car with coupé-like lines. Jaguar’s design director Ian Callum: ‘The XF is a stage in a personal journey for me. It has always been my career goal to return Jaguar to its rightful place as leader in automotive design. Cars like the original XJ6 left a lasting legacy and my ambition has been to create something as seminal. The XF is that car.”

Evolved from the sleek concept C-XF, that was shown last year, the new XF combines the flowing lines and efficient aerodynamics of the XK with space and comfort of a large saloon. A low drag coefficient of 0.29 and a long wheelbase of 2909mm indicate that this is truely achieved. Following the industry trend of ever growing cars, the XF is now the largest competitor in its class, being 4961mm long and 1877mm wide, a position previously held by the Audi A6.

The new grille, including the position of the badge, pays homage to the original XJ6 by being sunk into the front panel rather than sitting on top of it. The integrated headlamps mark a departure from the traditional quad-lamp arrangement of Jaguar saloons, although again the eye-brow shape above the main beam is citing a traditional Jaguar design element. The high rear end is a departure from Jaguar’s traditional more rounded, low shape, but there’s also a good practical reason for this change of shape, as it provides good aerodynamics and a well sized boot.

The range of engines consist of Jaguar’s familiar V6 and V8 engines in petrol or diesel form as found in Jaguar’s current range. The transmission is an electronically controlled six-speed unit, similar to the one found in the XK, including the use of gearshift paddles for manual intervention.

Most innovation centres around the interior and controls of the car. Similar to BMW, the design majors on a reduction of control units, but uses a different approach. Instead of a controller on the centre console, the main unit is a touch screen display, coupled with voice control for things like climate control, navigation or entertainment.

The traditional gear selector has give way to a novel controller for the gearbox on top of the centre console next to the start button. This controller sits flush with the console until the engine is started, when it raises to the functional position. The face-level air-vents are hidden in a similar way when not in use, creating a clean and simple looking dashboard, covered in an aluminium finsher that continues right into the doors.

There is a choice of different leathers and traditional burr walnut as well as contemporary straight grain veneers, combined with all sorts of little helpers, from fully electrically adjustable seats to Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.

Ian Callum summarises: ‘It’s a joy to look at it and that to me is one of the most important aspects of a Jaguar”

Jaguar XF microsite

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Deal struck as first MG sold in China

By John Revill, Manufacturing Editor, BIRMINGHAM POST

The first MG has been sold in China by Nanjing Automobile Corporation as the firm’s takeover by Shanghai Automotive gathers pace.

The car, a MG 7 – Nanjing’s version of the Rover 75 – was sold at a dealership at the coastal city of Qingdao.

The dealership is one of 47 which have been signed up across China by Nanjing as it gears up to launch the TF later this year.

Prices for the MG 7 start at 170,000 yuan (£11,292) for a basic 1.8 turbo engine, going up to 300,280 yuan (£19,946) for the top-of the-range 2.5 V6 flagship edition MG7.

This version is the stretched edition and is 100mm longer than the regular MG7s.

The figures compare with an original list price for the 1.8 Turbo Contemporary Rover 75, which commanded £22,490 before the Longbridge crash. Prices and dates for the reintroduction of the car to the UK have yet to be determined.

The prices significantly undercut the rival Roewe 750 models, the Rover 75 derived car produced by Shanghai Automotive which are selling for 200,000 yuan (£13,285).

Meanwhile, talks between Nanjing (NAC) and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) are said to be progressing well. The negotiations were revealed by The Birmingham Post in June, with both firms saying there was more likely to be a joint venture than an outright takeover by SAIC of its smaller domestic rival.

An industry source said: ‘I think we are looking at more of a buy-out than a link-up, although nobody in China will admit to that.”

As part of the takeover, SAIC could start producing the Roewe at the Pukou factory established by NAC on the outskirts of Nanjing.

The factory, which was officially opened in March this year, has capacity for 200,000 vehicles and 250,000 engines. This would replace the Yizheng factory which is being used by SAIC on the outskirts of Shanghai.

The site is more than 40 years old and has been used to build the Volkswagen Santana under licence as well as the Roewe 750.

The source said: ‘Shanghai’s factory is very, very old and its transport links are not good.

NAC got the Powertrain technology from Longbridge and has been using that to make engines, but I have heard they have been building engines by hand at Yizheng, which means they cannot get the same quality or quantity.”

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So misunderstood

a comment by John Griffiths, FINANCIAL TIMES

So, your user-chooser executive business car is up for renewal. You enjoy driving. You have a good sense of aesthetics and appreciate the finer points of styling and build quality. You require materials to be of high quality and fit and finish to be accomplished with precision. And you just wish that there might be something different out there – something that allows you, finally, to break free from your executive colleagues in their massed ranks of 3-Series BMWs, C-Class Mercedes and A4 Audis.

There is. But, horror of horrors, it wears a blue oval badge and is called the new Ford Mondeo – and therein lies its Achilles’s heel.

Back in the day, there used to be a very fine car called the Rover 75. Developed under BMW ownership, it was a match to virtually any mid-range executive car on the market. Its more sporting counterparts, the MG ZT and ZT-T, were among the finest sports saloons and estates you could buy.

The Rover 75 was a BMW in everything but name and built to the same quality standards. But for Britain’s self-appointed BMW, Mercedes or Audi-driving arbiters of corporate-car taste, it was strictly beyond the pale. Too few motorists ever found out how good a car it was and it never achieved the sales or respect it deserved.

A similar fate will, I suspect, await the new Mondeo. Its less highly specified versions will sell well enough into the workaday fleets sector, although in nothing like the numbers of its predecessors a decade or more ago, before employees could choose their cars, not have one thrust upon them. But for ‘prestige-conscious” executives, that blue oval badge will rule the Mondeo out of play. Which will be a crying shame, for the new Mondeo is a car of which cash-strapped Ford can rightly be proud.

I opted for the estate version, with its handsome 1,700 litres of loadspace. So, after you have specified its every bell and whistle, what do you get for your £28,795?

Apart from its astonishingly good looks, you get a 220 horsepower, 2.5-litre petrol engine attached to a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox. There is an absolutely cavernous interior, bigger than any of its more prestigious rivals, within a car some 175kg heavier than its predecessor – extra weight that might not be good for its green credentials but which adds to its sense of solidity and places it, in feel, if not in name, firmly in the prestige sector. At the same time, the car manages to combine agility with a truly supple and absorbent ride.

There are supplemental corner lights that flick on when the wheel is turned to illuminate sharp and medium corners; climate-controlled and eight-way adjustable powered seats; keyless entry; front and rear park assistance; Bluetooth voice-activated and hands-free communication; a large, touch-screen computer and navigation system plus CD autochanger; self-levelling suspension (on the estate); detachable towbar; and various more minor optional items including hill-start assistance and tyre-pressure monitoring. Metallic paint, estate-car roof rails, alcantara and leather trim are all part of the Titanium specification package.

Omit the more sybaritic options and the on-the-road price drops to £24,195 (£22,945 for the saloon). Similar specification BMWs, Mercedes and Audis list at well over £30,000.

The Ford?s vulnerability is, of course, is depreciation. It is likely to hang on to a touch more than 40 per cent of its purchase price after three years, compared with the C-Class’s 50 per cent. And it also has the problem that, at a quick – make that a very quick – glance, the top-specification car looks the same as the entry level, £14,995 version, with its more Spartan interior and humble 1.6 litre petrol engine. The 3-Series, C-class and A4 simply do not have such humble, image-denting siblings.

Such considerations do not loom too large in circumstances where employers are footing the bill. But they do provide pause for thought for private buyers. If you are thinking about owning a car for, say, 10 years, depreciation over such a long period will take care of itself. But for the more usual three-year car owners, the Mondeo will struggle to make a financial case for itself. Which really is a pity because, in terms of aesthetics, ability, practicality and driving satisfaction, the new Mondeo really does rank with the best.

Ford rivals such as Volkswagen group, Toyota and Honda have partially got round the problem by developing their own higher-margin prestige brands; Audi, of course, for VW; and Lexus and Acura respectively for Toyota and Honda. Profit-and-loss accounts show that this can be a good ploy. Ford bought Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo for similar reasons but is now in the process of dumping them again. It is to rely solely on the blue oval. History may show it selling in haste and repenting at leisure.

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No quick deal on Jaguar and Land Rover


CAR giant Ford will not make an announcement about the sale of its Jaguar and Land Rover subsidiaries until late this year or perhaps early 2008.

‘It’s a very orderly process,” Lewis Booth, executive vice president of Ford’s European units said, adding that Ford was in the middle of its strategic review of Volvo for potential sale.

Booth said he could not go into more detail about the possible sales.

Earlier this month, former Ford president and chief operating officer Nick Scheele joined with New York-based Ripplewood Holdings in its bid for Jaguar and Land Rover.

Scheele served as Ford’s president and chief operating officer from 2001 until his retirement in 2005. He also led Jaguar from 1992 to 1999.

Scheele’s involvement pits him against Jacques Nasser, who was Ford’s chief executive from 1999 to 2001.

Nasser is leading a separate bid by One Equity Partners, which manages private equity investments for JPMorgan Chase & Co, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Ford bought Jaguar in 1989 and Land Rover in 2000, joining them with Aston Martin and Volvo to form its Premier Automotive Group.

But the carmaker lost £6.3 billion last year and has said it expects to burn up £7.5 to £8 billion in cash before returning to profitability some time in 2009.

Earlier this month Ford said it completed the sale of its controlling stake in Aston Martin for £465 million in cash and preferred stock.

The company has taken opening bids for Jaguar and Land Rover and Ford president and chief executive Alan Mulally said in late July that the probability of selling the brands was greater than 50%.

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First meet of the new Rover 200 and 400 owners club

THE Rover R8 is edging closer to classic status. It’s now 18 years since the first models hit the road – and enthusiasts are increasingly discovering there’s far more to the cars than just simple, reliable and cheap transport. The logical next step? The formation of an owners club.

Lindsey Smith, current chairperson of the club, informed us that the official start-up meeting of the club will be held on Sunday 19th August. It’ll be at Gaydon’s recently-refurbished Heritage Motor Centre, from 11am onwards.

For more information have a look on the club’s website

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Cost of Rover inquiry exceeds £9.5m

Jean Eaglesham, Chief Political Correspondent, FINANCIAL TIMES

THE taxpayer-funded inquiry into the collapse of MG Rover has now cost more than £9.5m, with no target date set for its completion, new figures reveal.

Inspectors appointed by the government in May 2005 to investigate the demise of the carmaker had racked up costs totalling £9.64m by the end of last month, according to figures released to the Financial Times. The costs include fees of £7.8m plus value-added tax of £1.4m and disbursements of £400,000.

The bill for the investigation now exceeds the controversial £6.5m loan granted by the government to MG Rover to allow the carmaker to keep trading for a week after it went into administration in April 2005. Ministers rejected suggestions that their treatment of Rover, which employed about 6000 workers, was affected by the imminence of the 2005 general election.

MPs are concerned about the inquiry’s progress, and the increase in its cost. When the government set up the inquiry more than two years ago, Alan Johnson, then trade and industry secretary, said he wanted the inspectors – Guy Newey QC and Gervase MacGregor – to report “as quickly as possible”.

Ministers said in 2005, when the bill for the four-month-old inquiry totalled £1.6m, that the costs were “inherently front-loaded because of the need to obtain records and financial information at the outset”. But the latest figures suggest costs are still accumulating at about £300,000 a month, with the total increasing from £8.1m at the end of February to £9.6m at the end of July.

The department for business on Thursday defended the absence of any deadline for the inspectors to report, saying a target date “might restrict the depth and thoroughness of their inquiry”.

Nanjing Automobile Corporation, which bought MG Rover’s manufacturing assets from its liquidators in 2005, relaunched sports car production in the Midlands in May. But the Chinese company is using only a fraction of the Longbridge plant’s old capacity. NAC earlier this year shipped several of MG Rover’s old assembly lines to Nanjing.

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MG3 goes rallying…

MG Enthusiast magazine

NAC-MG look set to be rejoining the World Rally Championship in 2008 as part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) – using its exciting new Super 2000 car.

The project, which Motor Sports Developments (MSD) has been working on for the past 18 months, is ready and the car is being sold as part of a ‘customer package’ which potential entrants can buy off the shelf.

The MG3 rally car features Xtrac 4×4 transmission and NAC-MG managment has given the project its blessing. MSD and NAC-MG hope to compete in the 2008 IRC, and the MG3 has been homologated for all regional, national and local rally championships – as well as the Production Car World Rally Championship (PWRC).

MSD is working with British team BGM which has purchased the first car and will now act as the preferred customer team.

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MG rolls out the red carpet

MG Enthusiast magazine

MG’s new 7 and TF were the centre of attention at a recent celebration of the tenth anniversary of the re-unification of China and Hong Kong. Stars of film and stage came out in force, and gave the massive audience their first taste of the cars – unless they’d attended one of the recent MG roadshows.

NAC-MG’s general manager Zhang Xin enjoyed the occasion and appreciated the publicity his marque was appreciated, and said: “The MG7 has elegant and graceful interiors and an English appearance.

“Remarkable power and precision are fully reflected in a classic MG design. Because of this, it makes the upmarket MG 7 saloon the perfect Hong Kong’s star car.”

Financial analysts unconvinced by NAC/SAIC merger…

MG Enthusiast magazine

According to the influential Wall Street Journal, Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation’s (SAIC) proposed merger with Nanjing Automobile Corporation (NAC) would not be a case of bigger meaning better. However, rising values of SAIC shares would indicate that investors see things rather differently…

However confusion over the letter of intent signed between the two companies has raised some confusion as to what it all means for the two companies – is it a merger, a Joint Venture, or a merely a pooling of resources?

The Wall Street Journal added: “Moves by SAIC and NAC to find common ground fit with China’s aim to consolidate its fragmented auto industry and create national players that can take on the global auto giants.”

In 2005, SAIC and NAC would have become partners in the MG-Rover Joint Venture, but this amounted to nothing and collapsed into a bidding war for the company’s assets, once it fell into administration.

SAIC is currently cash rich. with profits expected to quadruple this year – and industry watchers have not ruled out a bid for the Jaguar-Land Rover Group, which Ford is currently in the process of finding a buyer for.

Paul Stowe, NAC-MG’s Quality Director commented in his latest blog: “So what would cooperation mean for Longbridge? In my view the move can only be perceived as a positive step for both the MG brand and the UK factory. SAIC has an abundance of money, vast experience in the Chinese car market, it has employed some of the best engineer’s available while recruiting some real heavyweight professionals to help them deliver worldwide domination.

“NAC on the other hand, has passion, a magnificent brand, fantastic facilities and a European headquarters – it is loved by the media, and offer a personal face to the rest of the world – something SAIC have been struggling with.”

Keith Adams

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