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Jaguar, once nearly extinct, bares claws

Jaguar, now owned by Indian automaker Tata Motors, is moving ahead with plans to offer a $1.2 million supercar along with a slew of new lower-cost models.
The new Jaguar C-X75 Hybrid Supercar is pictured at an event in London last week. The car will sell for over $1 million.BEN STANSALL / AFP - Getty Images

It’s been 50 years since the Jaguar E-Type revolutionized automotive design, and now the British carmaker is shaking things up again with the announcement that it will put its widely acclaimed C-X75 concept vehicle into production.

Initially, Jaguar officials said they had no formal plans for the striking supercar, which made its debut at last autumn’s Paris Motor Show, but they’ve switched course reflecting the strong response the prototype has received from the public. It will now join 40 other all-new products, variants of existing models and major technology programs scheduled by Jaguar and its sibling brand, Land Rover.

“People expect Jaguar to be innovators — that is when Jaguar is at its best,” said Jaguar global brand director Adrian Hallmark. “No other vehicle will better signify Jaguar’s renewed confidence and excellence in technological innovation than this.”

The 2-seater — of which Jaguar plans to build just 150, at 700,000 pounds sterling apiece (about $1.2 million at current rates) — will be developed jointly with racing’s Williams F1. The C-X75 uses a plug-in hybrid drivetrain — but it’s not another Chevrolet Volt. While it will get more than 30 miles per charge, it will also launch from 0 to 60 in less than 3 seconds, reaching a top speed in excess of 200 mph.

A key difference between the show car and the production version of the C-X75 will be the use of a relatively conventional internal combustion engine to provide back-up power, rather than twin micro-turbines, technology not yet ready for the road, according to Jaguar officials.

The timing of the C-X75 announcement gives Jaguar a much-needed boost. Two years ago Ford sold the carmaker to ambitious Indian automaker Tata Motors. Ford’s own ambitions for Jag once called for massive sales increases, but those plans came to naught, largely due to flawed products like the compact X-Type. They were basically rebadged versions of mainstream Ford models.

Recognizing the price tag for getting things right, Ford decided to sell off Jag and Land Rover. Tata, in turn, is betting it can use its new marques to gain a global foothold — and improve the design and technology of its more modest Indian product lines.

Among the many Jaguars under development, Hallmark confirmed, is a new entry-luxury model. Don’t call it a replacement for the unloved X-Type, however. That model was, to Hallmark, symptomatic of the many mistakes that nearly destroyed Jaguar. The new small car, along with everything else to follow, will have to deliver the look, the feel and the performance that fits the brand, stressed the British-born executive.

Getting back into the compact market — long dominated by BMW’s 3-Series — is essential, added Hallmark. That segment “is massive” and could become “the most important piece” of Jaguar’s planned product expansion effort, he said. A sedan is a must off the new platform, but Jaguar would “love to do multiple body styles,” Hallmark hinted.

Asked what else is coming from Jaguar, Hallmark suggested a higher-end crossover, targeting the likes of BMW’s X5 and Audi’s Q7, is under development, while a smaller crossover is also a strong possibility. That’s a distinct shift in strategy as Jaguar has long steered clear of anything truck-like, yielding that part of the market to Land Rover.

“Just because we’re part of Jaguar/Land Rover doesn’t mean we can’t look at crossovers,” said Hallmark, who joined the British carmaker last October after a brief stint with the reborn Saab.

“We will not overlap,” echoed Dr. Ralf Speth, the Jaguar Land Rover CEO, in a separate interview. There will be “distinct DNA” that won’t let customers confuse crossovers sold by the two brands — which will maintain separate showrooms.

Hallmark also suggested that while Jaguar wants to dip below its current range, “We can also [extend] above where we are now.”

Notably, the 41 new programs — with the C-X75 added in — include major new powertrains. That’s essential considering tough new mileage and emissions standards coming in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world. Expect the supercar to be just one of several to use advanced electric drivetrains, though Speth cautioned that neither Jaguar nor Land Rover are ready to commit to a pure battery-electric vehicle. More diesel powerplants are also in the works.

While Jaguar might not have an unlimited budget, it’s in a better position than it was just three years ago. “It’s gone from survival to unbridled ambition in three years,” Hallmark said.

To help fund the ambitious product program at Jaguar/Land Rover, Tata is preparing a global bond issue, with J.P Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Credit Suisse Group and Standard Chartered Plc hired to manage the deal. While the British operations are now operating in the black, the bonds would help offset the cost of Tata’s $2.3 billion acquisition and free up more funds for research and development.

At one point, former Ford CEO Jacques Nasser laid out plans to push Jaguar sales to 200,000 a year and beyond. Today, however, it is barely at the 50,000 mark. The product offensive could transform the automaker from a niche player to something more on a par with its German rivals. “We won’t be selling 1 million Jaguars a year,” though, Hallmark cautioned.

“But we want to sell big multiples” of the current numbers, he quickly added. “A lot more than today.”