Jaguar is a brand steeped in automotive history. From icons like the E-Type to record setting cars like the XJ220, the British automaker is as tied to performance and speed as any in the world.
Through the 1990’s and early 2000s, the brand seemed to have lost that passion for speed under Ford ownership. Thankfully, all that changed when Jaguar and Land Rover (JLR) were purchased by Indian company Tata. For Americans, Ratan Tata was largely an unknown, but Jaguar / Land Rover’s North American Vice President of Communications Stuart Schorr explains in an exclusive interview this week what the takeover meant for the brands.
Schorr was at Chrysler when JLR was purchased by Tata, and was quite wrapped up in dealing with their challenges at the time. He came onto the JLR team after the purchase, giving him a very unique vantage point in the recent turnaround for the brand.
BoldRide: What was your reaction to the purchase at the time?
Stuart Schorr: “Tata was a complete unknown for a westerner. American/European auto industry considered Tata an unknown. We didn’t know what to make of it at the time. But the brands seemed to be at interesting places, with Land Rover doing well, but no clue what the future would hold for Jaguar.”
What was that transition like, after being part of Chrysler for some very challenging years?
“JLR was smaller, thus you could engage with leadership and move quickly to make an impact. We were able to put together a team that was given a mandate to be more aggressive and proactive. We had a lot of new debuts in the last two years and had to keep up with that.”
To your knowledge, what were some of the major changes that took place on a corporate, R&D, and production level?
“The F-Type had not been decided upon in 2009. The Range Rover and RR Sport had not yet been engineered, but planned. The R-model has only been a recent development.
You have to remember, JLR was a small part of a giant corporation (Ford). While that had benefits, it also tended to mean JLR was not the main driver in a business decision. Now we are independent, we are owned by Tata, but not controlled.
Tata created an environment where they are extremely bullish. They said we are standalone, but expected us to be aggressive. Tata owns us, but we manage ourselves.”
What did you see internally that had you convinced Jaguar would make a big comeback?
“It was two things. First– the technical credibility of the vehicles. When you drive, you know they are quite advanced, high-performing products. Two- when you spend time with Ian Callum and Jerry McGovern, you see what they are looking at you say ‘oh my god this is great.’”
What would people find the most surprising about the inner workings of JLR under Tata? What changes were the most surprising?
“Well, you have a company that is significantly smaller than BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, we don’t have any where near the scale and size, but we are able to make the most capable and credible SUV in the world.
The Range Rover and Range Rover Sport are head and shoulders the best SUVs in the world. How can this small company deliver so well on its promise? We fell that way too, with the F-Type on its way out. Most people are impressed that we can deliver given our size.
Our volume- JLR in the US sold 50K vehicles compared to 200K art a German competitors. They are like mass-market luxury, which works to our favor. Means we don’t have the advertising budget.”
Is there a problem with a small, niche luxury brand getting too big and losing what makes it special?
“I think we’re so far from getting too big. If anything, we need to be more visible. We need to be more recognized. MB is still niche at 5 times bigger than us.”
What kind of involvement does Ratan Tata have in the workings of JLR?
“He is very design savvy and design literate. He is an architect by trade. He interacts with designers, but doesn’t control them. He converses with them.”
When did talks first start about the F-Type, and when did those talks become serious?
“I saw it as a clay in Ian Callum’s design studio. I was thrilled, anyone that knows Jaguar knows that a 2-seat sportscar defines us, but we didn’t have it. The back end of the F-Type was so unique and beautiful. It reminded me that the design of cars in the 60s were works of art, and many cars today didn’t have the emotional resonance. This car nailed it from an emotional standpoint.”
And a hardtop?
“There are certainly opportunities for both brands with regards to the coupe concept. The most hardcore sportscar fans prefer a coupe, and designers actually prefer coupes because it gives them more to work with. Take a look at that C-X16 concept as a guide for the future.”
The F-Type gives Jaguar a stunning sportscar entrant, which allows the XK to move upmarket. What can people expect out of the next XK, and when can we expect it?
“The F-Type draws attention to the whole brand. We expect sales to increase across the lineup, as the F-Type gets better. The car will help raise the profile of the brand. People will come in, and see all of the vehicles that we offer. People still do want two seats in the back. Now we have a family, which allows us to go upmarket with the XKR and XKR-S.”
Why was it decided to make a vehicle like the Project 7? Talk about the process of creating a special variant of the F-Type like that.
“If there’s anything that it speaks to is nimbleness associated with being a small company. Ian and the designers just wanted to explore the car and see if they could connect it to history in a modern way. Our size allows us to capitalize on ideas.
It also references our view of becoming more and more high performance.”
What does the future hold for both brands?
“Pay attention to Frankfurt- we’re going to make some waves.”