Opinion : Why JLR’s Philip Koehn has a mountain to climb

Philip Koehn

Jaguar’s managing director and former Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited’s Engineering Director, Philip Koehn, has quite a task ahead of him. The company he’s leading faces quite a deadline –  to become an EV-only brand from 2025. Trouble is, the man who set out this strategy won’t be in role as Big Ben chimes in 2023…

That’s quite a timescale, not least given the forthcoming all-electric XJ saloon and J-Pace SUV were canned in 2020 and the firm’s only other electric car – the I-Pace – has been on-sale since 2018, with no signs of being joined by any additional battery-powered models.

It was telling that, when Thierry Bolloré, Jaguar Land Rover’s departing CEO spelled out his Reimagine Strategy in 2020, there was little mention of the Magna Steyr-assembled I-Pace, which is clearly not part of the firm’s future. Instead, all existing Jaguars would be phased out to be replaced by an all-new range of EVs competing in the luxury sector.

Missed opportunities

Coming in from Groupe Renault, Bolloré would have been privy to cutting-edge battery and electric motor tech being developed by Nissan and Renault, and he concluded that the forthcoming I-Pace-based XJ just wasn’t going to cut it against the Tesla Model S, let alone what the German opposition had up its sleeve.

So, the 2022 Jaguar XJ EV (below) was killed, Rover P8-style, close to its start-of-production. Bolloré said at the time, ‘It was one of the toughest decisions I have ever made, especially since it was in my first month, but XJ was a completely different kind of car from the ones we were proposing – different in technology, battery chemistry, electronics, size, performance and market position. It would never have suited our plans.’

So, Bolloré spelled out a clean-sheet model plan and, under Reimagine, Jaguar would become a Bentley-rivalling all-electric brand.

2022 Jaguar XJ electric

Death spiral for outgoing Jags

That leaves the existing models – including the I-Pace – in an interesting place, because they won’t be replaced. The XE experiment is clearly over and the good-to-drive saloon is now on death row, while the likes of the XF, E-Pace and F-Pace that form the heartland of the range are also on a sad and avoidable death spiral.

These models will all receive regular updates between now and their end of production, so could represent good value for anyone wanting a piece of Jaguar history – but it still seems like a very odd business strategy to announce their end so far ahead of it actually happening.

So, where does this leave Koehn and his task of leading JLR’s problem child into the brave new world? He definitely has good form – having been learning the ropes at Jaguar since bailing out of the now-defunct, Chinese-backed attempt to revive the German Borgward brand back in 2019. Before that he was at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, and clearly understands the wants and needs of the luxury car market.

Some task ahead

However, Koehn’s inbox list is mighty, and not just underpinned by what appears to be an extremely tight timescale. He also needs to ensure that these cars are built in the UK, given JLR’s commitment to keep all of its UK facilities open past 2025. So, we’re looking at all-new cars, an all-new platform known as Panthera, and a new battery and motor set-up – to be built on all-new production lines.

Also he doesn’t have the luxury of large economies of scale by being part of a larger manufacturing group. When at Rolls-Royce in 2017, he told Autocar: ‘I was taught that you need a strong relationship with a volume car company to build the best low-volume cars. We learned that by using the 7 Series platform, the promised economies of scale weren’t as viable as we first thought.’

That’s good, then. Rolls-Royce now has an all-new architecture with which to build its new models from and, no doubt, it’s this way of working which will deliver the new luxury Jaguars. Luxury and craftsmanship will need to be flawless – and this is an area where Jaguar has recently struggled during its ill-fated journey to larger production volumes and a Audi/BMW/Mercedes-Benz approach to covering as many market sectors as possible.

Hello, brave new world

Jaguar Land Rover has form in moving quickly, though, so if any company can achieve the impossible, it is probably this one. Remember how it managed to build new factories, engines and an all-new model platform to guarantee the company’s post-Ford, Ingenium-powered future? That was an impressive achievement in a short period of time, even if there were more than a few quality issues along the way.

So, it’s likely that the project to ‘reimagine’ Jaguar can happen. Get the product out there, make it better than the best of the best, and reboot the company into a Bentley-baiting luxury rival. But it’s going to take money, and lots of it, and all of that comes down to the depths of parent company Tata’s pockets and commitment. Quite a thought, especially considering the global economic wasteland we’re currently staring down the barrel of, post COVID-19 Pandemic. So, it’s one hell of a gamble.

The bigger question is should it? Taking Jaguar upmarket is fraught with seemingly insurmountable challenges. Can the iconic brand be taken up there? Historically, Jaguars were cheaper than their rivals, and hunted in the executive car sector, not the luxury one. The very pinnacle of the range was covered by Daimler, and that really didn’t hold much resonance with buyers. Can Jaguar really be mentioned in the same breath as Bentley?

And that leads us to the real elephant in the room: Range Rover. Right up there at the very top of JLR’s model range is this model, which now costs between £100,000 and £200,000 depending on which version you plump for. And that’s before options. Its image as a luxury car has been nurtured since 2002, and today it goes toe-to-toe with the best cars in the world… and, in 2024, it’ll be offered in all-electric form.

In that world, do we really need Jaguar?

Range Rover (L460) rear view

Keith Adams
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19 Comments

  1. Jaguar needs to go back to what it did best, making luxury cars that drove like supercars, not trying to rival the BMW 3 series with the underwhelming XE. Also leave SUVs to Land Rover and concentrate on producing large, luxurious saloons and sports cars that most people will associate with Jaguar.

    • The trouble is the market for Luxury Sedans is very small and without a volume business that Audi, BMW and Mercedes enjoy to spread cost out of key technologies, it is impossible to produce an XJ that could sell against the A8, 7 Series and S Class.

  2. I’m not sure a super-luxury Jaguar is the right way to go but equally, after years of different failed strategies and directions, what does Jaguar really stand for these days?
    I’m genuinely amazed Jaguar hasn’t been abandoned and the focus purely put into LR. It feels like it’s a brand they’re trying to force into a direction to justify it, rather than that direction being a natural direction to go for the brand?
    I’ll save judgement until I see the products but I’m sceptical.

    • I feel like another super high-end brand is just about the last thing we need. Thing is, there never seems to be a shortage of buyers with money to burn on these obscenely over -priced baubles. And that’ll be why it’s an appealing direction to pursue for Jaguar. Whether or not they can make that leap remains to be seen. It doesn’t sit well with those of us who remember Jaguar in it’s ” hey-day”. But we’re not the intended consumer group. It’s the monied young that Jag has in its sights. For that set a stratospheric price tag is an attribute in its self. JLR has learned this by pushing its Range Rover further and further upmarket, and presumably sees no reason why it can’t pull this trick again.

  3. Jaguar ought to have a place as a sporting brand to counter the more laid-back luxury brand that is Range Rover. Remembering MG Rover days, it would be the MG to offer a choice against the Rover, although with less obvious parts-sharing than MGR achieved. In the VAG group there is Porsche, arguably the role model for what Jaguar ought to be, although VAG don’t have an obvious competitor to Range Rover: Volkswagen is more down market, Audi seems to be bit of a mix and Bentley much higher in the market.

    Jaguar does have a place in producing attractively styled, sporting cars. You only have to look at BMW and Lexus to see some really awful turkeys, however well engineered they might be.

  4. Jaguar shouldn’t be going after Bentley. Porsche or the resurgent Maserati are the obvious targets. I do think Range Rover should be a separate brand and its name extended to saloons as was the plan a few years ago. It would be an enormous cash cow for JLR and a pleasing reversal of the trend for saloon manufacturers to diversify into SUVs!

  5. I think Jaguar as a brand should resurrect the XJ, their best known product, but obviously as a high performance luxury EV. Also they have a proven track record with supercars and could go down this road as well. The XE didn’t sell because it wasn’t Jaguar enough and was too much like a smaller BMW.

  6. One of the problems I have with the Bentley comparison made here is that Bentley isn’t that, well… independent these days compared to other premium brands within the Volkswagen Audi Group (VAG). Since the demise of the Rolls Royce designed 6.75 litre V8 engine about two years ago and limited days left for the W12 unit which was designed by Volkswagen to be used in the Volkswagen Phaeton, Bentley no longer has its own engines but has to rely completely on the VAG parts bin for major components.

    The question is why, given the hefty price tag all of its models command? After all, Porsche still designs and builds its own chassis and body construction, flat-four and -six engines as well as a V8 and only delves into the VAG parts pin for the SUV offerings. Having only VAG engines and platform designs for new Porsche models would tarnish the brand very quickly and loose it many loyal buyers. The same would apply to Lamborghini. Yet the cheapest Porsche is around £45,000 which is substantially less than an entry level Bentley and probably built in similar numbers. I personally wouldn’t entertain the thought of buying a new Bentley (if I could afford one) because to me their latest models are so parts bin reliant now, with not enough engineering separation.

    Therefore, any premium Jaguar ideally needs to show some independence in terms of its major engineering content from that of another manufacturer if it is to succeed in selling cars for over £150,000.

    For me the Jaguar XE was (and still is) quite a handsome looking car, although it doesn’t feel special enough inside, while limiting it to just the one bodystyle hasn’t help its cause either. It certainly has more presence than the ubiquitous 3 Series, while striking colours such as Caessium Blue (sadly now discontinued) and the metallic reds gave it further personality. The same sentiments can’t be extended to the second generation XF which in my eyes looks bland in comparison, while the facelifted F Type for the 2020 Model Year looks too heavily influenced by the ‘saloon car’ look or an Audi R8. In essence, it has lost is visual appeal, in my eyes.

    Having the Jaguar brand compete against Bentley might work, although at the same time that is a lot of void below it that Jaguar would be abandoning just for a hopeful boost in ‘status’ value. For the sake of Jaguar Land Rover itself, Jaguar still needs to be competing in other sectors below it where there is higher volume. Ideally, it also need to find a replacement for the current F Type, as according to a recent article in Autocar magazine, there isn’t going to be a replacements sports car. The question is why? After all, if Porsche can deliver an electric powered sports car, then surely Jaguar can? A sports car is an integral part of the Jaguar brand, just as it is for Porsche.

    The announcement of the ‘Reimagine’ project has not exactly been a PR success for the Jaguar brand as it effectively announced the death of its models some four years before they are due to be superseded. That will have had an impact on orders from potential buyers because they will be worried about residual value when looking to change their purchase, buying a confirmed obsolete model, not to mention thinking about ongoing after sales support. The Jaguar Cars press office has strangely been very quiet since the ‘Reimagine’ programme was first announced, with no regular updates relating to it, while from the product planners there has been little product enrichment/enhancement of the current line-up to sustain sales interest (I see you can no longer order SVO exterior colours for Jaguars either, according to their website).

    Make no mistake, Jaguar still has an important role to play within Jaguar Land Rover, but the products need to look and feel more special than they currently are and be pitched in market sectors where they will sell in healthy numbers. The Jaguar brand itself still has appeal, but it needs to be realistic where it can compete successfully.

  7. Jaguar needs a halo sports car plus one large luxury XJ and something for the Mark II segment. And please go back to proper wood, leather and aluminium interiors not some copy of a eurobox.

  8. Jaguar’s volumes have been too low for viability for years, and only Land Rover has effectively supported the brand through a huge amount of both literal and technical cross-subsidy.

    I can understand Bollore getting frustrated by it, although canning the XJ so close to production will have taken a nine figure investment down with it. But the idea of turning a brand that had failed to sell in even premium-appropriate volumes into an ultra-luxury competitor to the likes of Bentley seemed grossly optimistic. Especially with one platform underpinning three models and without the efficiencies of scale enjoyed by much larger rivals.

    The big issue that JLR has always faced is the limited crossover between the Jaguar and Land Rover sides of the portfolio. Even now there are only two ‘linked’ models for each, the F-Pace (Jaguar’s most successful model) and Range Rover Velar (ironically the least liked Range Rover), plus the Evoque and (largely unloved) contract-built E-Pace. Could a full sized Range Rover really be turned into a viable/ acceptable Jaguar product? I’d argue not.

    The sensible, if unpalatable approach, would be to buddy up with somebody else for a smaller EV platform to underpin Jaguar models. There is an existing powertrain supply deal with BMW for the 4.4-litre V8, although one that has doubtless been written on the most favourable terms for the Germans (despite the fact that, amazingly, JLR has kept the older Ford-era 5.0-litre V8 in limited production, too – efficiency is definitely not one of the group’s strengths.)

    But would BMW share an EV powertrain? Why – other than huge amounts of money – would the agree to do so given they have already paid the costs of developing it themselves up front?

    A smaller company? Lotus is reportedly keen to licence its version of Geely’s SPA architecture, the one that will underpin the Eletre SUV. But that is a two-motor platform in a part of the market where the most premium performance stuff will soon be triple-motor. It is also said to be massively heavy.

    At this point the best short-term solution for Jaguar would be for an incoming JLR CEO to push back on the 2025 end point for the existing model line-up, not least as it seems impossible they are going to be able to have viable and competitive pure EV products ready to go by that point. The XE and the XF are already dead – production officially ‘suspended’, but never likely to restart – but there seems no reason the F-Pace and E-Pace couldn’t be given heavy facelifts to get them closer to 2030; they both already offer PHEV powertrains which could keep them in Europe even as emissions and CO2 targets get stricter.

    But I’m afraid Keith’s question is a truly excellent one: is there really a point in Jaguar any more? The brand is selling fewer cars (across six model lines) than Saab was managing across two when GM declared its Swedish subsidiary to be unviable and pulled the plug.

  9. I’m not sure where brown’s Lane gets the idea that the BMW V8 is new technology : AFAIK it goes back to the 4 litre V8 of the early 1990s which first appeared in the 740i of about 1993 . Jaguar’s own V8 has been steadily developed overy the years and seems to be the one part of recent Range Rovers that did NOT give trouble . The whole car market is in a state of flux because of a seeming transition to EV, but how long will that state of affairs last : the future is still very undecided

  10. I really don’t get the disdain for the Jaguar XE. After 3 years of owning a 2.0d M-Sport BMW 3 series, my wife changed it for a 2.0d R-Sport XE.

    The BMW was more responsive, but then the Jaguar was much longer-geared. However the Jaguar rode better, was quieter and more comfortable, but also handled better.

    In fact, the only really bad thing on it was the Meridian-branded stereo, which was terrible!

  11. Perhaps Jaguar should examine their rights to the River name, and take Jaguar in that direction.
    Have Jag as a mass market premium volume manufacturer, but keep range rover as it’s luxury brand.

    I do wish Rover would come back though!

  12. I find the current strategy for Jaguar very confusing, especially the decision to can the electric XJ. How uncompetitive was it if Bollore decided to write off a 90% complete product? And how is an upmarket, low volume XJ saloon, different from the upmarket, low volume new Jaguars planned? It would surely be a better bridge than 2L diesel XEs.

    In the meantime, the I-Pace, which was a pioneer has been left as an orphan.

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