How bad did it get? Jaguar executives remember 1988 as the year product reliability went bonkers. Engine assembly and quality controls were so sloppy that variances among factory-fresh, in-line sixes wavered by as much as 40 horsepower. Or 18% of potential power. How good is it getting? Tighter manufacturing methods, reports Mike Dale, president of Jaguar Cars Inc., have resulted in significant improvements in the marque's quality over the last 18 months. "You know," he says with a sly smile, "I just can't get used to how the chrome lines up straight." Which leaves only the question of how Jaguar managed this apparent return from the brink of extinction to the cusp of a better future. Recovery began three years ago when Ford Motor Co. of Dearborn, Mich., purchased Jaguar Cars Ltd. of Coventry, England, for $3.5 billion. That bought a grand history, a terrible reputation and a very dodgy future. Many believe the price should have included the BBC, most of the Cotswolds and unlimited time-sharing at Windsor Castle. Undaunted, Ford began the enormous task of putting claws back into Jaguar. Its lone caveat was signal: A luxury Jaguar is a British tradition, a world distinction that must never be recycled as an American Ford styled for the masses. Executive changes were made with desks for anyone dedicated to ruthless quality management. A top-heavy work force was trimmed from 12,000 employees to 7,000. Productivity was pushed, design processes and manufacturing methods polished, machinery that looked like Industrial Revolution leftovers junked--and union featherbedding defeated. "Employees had been working to a quota system--say the production of 30 'whatchits' a shift," explains Jaguar spokesman John Crawford. "Any employee who had made his 30 'whatchits' by 11:30 a.m. was then allowed to sit around and do nothing all day." The new, improved, transitional, yet not visibly changed Jaguars have been selling in the United States for almost two years. In that period, the car has gone from 25th to 10th place in a J. D. Power survey measuring customer satisfaction, including buyer impressions of vehicle reliability. At assembly line levels, Crawford adds, faults per 100 cars have dropped by 80%. Warranty claims are down. Now Jaguars representing all manufacturing changes by Ford--36 months of revisions touching 1,500 components per car--are here. And this year's radical conversion of the prowling, low-heeled, thoroughly seductive 1993 Jaguar XJS is typical of the bold thinking and tough execution by which Jaguar hopes to bury its past. Gone is the aristocratic but excessive V-12 engine that for two decades has powered 52,000 coupe and convertible versions of the XJS. In its place is the lighter, thriftier and politically cooler in-line six with 4.0 liters gathering 223 horsepower. Half the cylinder count cert ainly saps a little of the elitism that the XJS has always shared with the Mercedes 600SL convertible, BMW's 850i coupe and others in the V-12 club. But that's a shallow loss at best. For a smaller engine makes for a more agile, better balanced car. Minus six cylinders and 200 pounds of engine metal, the new XJS gets off the line a smidge faster than the previous guard and seems just as athletic in higher acceleration ranges. It most certainly is easier on premium unleaded. But here's the marketing masterstroke. By virtue of its inexpensive transplant, the 1993 XJS Coupe is selling for a whopping $10,000 less than the V-12 version. And at $49,750, this elegant, fully optioned Jaguar is now comfortably closer in price, and therefore buyer appeal, to the big luxury sedans from Lexus and Infiniti and comparable grand tourers from Mercedes. The flowing, long-nosed exterior of the XJS is unaltered, but for the absence of a V-12 emblem on the rear vala ce. That does not represent resistance to change. It means there has been no public pressure to revise what is considered the handsomest Jaguar since the XK-120 two-seaters of 1948. A five-speed manual transmission is this year's optional companion to an electronically enhanced four-speed automatic. Except for CD player and seat warmers, there are few luxuries that aren't standard on the long, low and lovely XJS twins. Their inventory includes driver's-side air bag, full Connolly leather interior, power seats with memories, anti-lock brakes, automatic climate control, alarm, fog lamps, trip computer and very much etcetera. Body paint is rich, deep and in the brighter colors, glossy enough for toy soldiers. New electricals fed by a 120-amp Nippondenso alternator replace old wiring that before Ford's purchase was a recurring bad joke alongside Dan Quayle and Bakersfield. The XJS also wears enough burl walnut to panel a stateroom aboard QEII. But what of reliability, the arrant demon that at times left more Jaguars than beer cans littering roadsides from Seattle to John o'Groats? Final resolution can come only from months spent driving a hundred cars for several million miles across the real world. But after thrashing two XJS coupes--one automatic, the other a five-speed manual--for two weeks and close to 1,500 miles through gales, snow, coastal fog and desert sun, the sum total of problems mechanical, structural and electrical was: Zero. Better yet, each car felt tight and maintained a sense of remaining bolted together longer than its warranties. Trim and panels stayed glued and held fast no matter road ruts and humidity. Doors, trunk and hood lids operated easily, solidly without hanging up or being shoved to fit. Despite that pint-sized motor in a 10-gallon engine bay, the XJS cat roars as always; tracking flat and firm on fat paws by Goodyear and quite capable of extended 100 m.p.h. cruising without breathing deeply. Yet the XJS remains very British and particularly Jaguar-ish, which is noticeably anachronistic. That includes swivel-lidded ashtrays and a placard warning not to touch plug leads "whilst the engine is running." So view it as a heavy, sedate vehicle much happier on broad expressways and muscling through long, sweeping turns than playing heel-and-toe hopscotch on serpentine country lanes. The XJS simply is too long, too weighty on the steering, too deliberate in its responses for nimble stuff in jumbled traffic. Don't look for cup holders in any Jag-wah. The British believe their Jag-ewers and motorways are for motoring. Tea is taken at Fortnum & Mason. The XJS coupe contains two perfectly upholstered and miniaturized rear seats. They are useless for anything that can't be folded, squashed or tossed. There is no surplus front head room in the coupe for those 6 feet tall and beyond. It also is time Jaguar redesi gned the heft of its automatic shifter. A little more girth, weight and grip would lessen its feel as a T-handled chopstick. Although Jaguar sales remain a crapshoot, recent numbers show significant improvements. In December, 1991, Jaguar sold only 693 cars in the United States. Last December, the total rose to 1,072. Jaguar-Ford has budgeted $120 million for the next phase of its expanding future. It includes the December launch of a V-12-engined flagship, a high-performance luxury sedan, the XJR-S. There will be a newV-8 engine followed by a smaller, more affordable Jaguar. And in an obvious desire to leave no customer request unserviced, Jaguar will indeed install cup holders in 1994. Plans are even being made to ditch the car's flat-faced feline badge and bring back the leaping cat as a hood ornament. Meanwhile, American fortunes of Jaguar--which account for 40% of company sales--teeter precariously on the whiskery, seemingly ine adicable issue of reliability. To prove its own faith in the new cars, Jaguar recently offered unprecedented guarantees on cars sold in selected test markets : a 30-day, money-back guarantee on all 1993 cars. To date, 400 Jaguars have been sold in those centers. Only four have been returned. One customer's financing didn't clear. Two buyers returned coupes to trade on sedans. And one woman decided she really preferred a Mercedes. "Not one return involved mechanical problems," notes Crawford. "We are quite impressed." 1993 Jaguar XJS Coupe The Good Quality, reliability measurably improved. Base price slashed by more than $10,000. Lighter, smaller, more efficient engine. Still good-looking lap of traditional luxury for royals and rock stars. The Bad Skimpy head room, no rear seat room. A little heavy in the handling. The Ugly Skimpy, out-of-context gearshift. Cost Base: $49,750. Tested with standard equipment, including automatic transmission, driver's-side air bag, anti-lock brakes, full leather interior, automatic climate control, cruise control, alarm and power seats with memories. Engine 4.0 liters, 24-valve, all-aluminum in-line six developing 223 horsepower. Type Front-engine, rear-drive, 2+2 luxury grand tourer. Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, with five-speed manual, 8.9 seconds. Top speed, track tested, 138 m.p.h. EPA, city and highway, with automatic, 17 and 24 m.p.g. Curb Weight 3,725 pounds.
|Paul Dean||Los Angeles Times||February 5, 1993|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||November 1, 1992|
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