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Opinion: Why today could mark the first day of Jaguar’s salvation

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Jaguar I-Pace side profile
The Jaguar I-Pace has been well-received
Is Jaguar about to be reinvented as an electric-only brand?

There’s no two ways about it, if this morning's news is true, this is a bleak day in the history of Jaguar Land Rover, with its wounds now set to be torn asunder for all to pick over.

First, some context: Jaguar Land Rover is not alone in facing a crisis, although the fact is the UK’s biggest car maker may add some shock for homegrown readers. In the coming days, weeks and months we anticipate other giants of the industry, including the mighty GM and Ford, to formally reveal plans of their own, on a far greater scale, in the face of their own challenges.

However, there’s no escaping the fact that, for Jaguar especially - given Land Rover's greater sales, standing and profitability - the cuts are a bitter blow, albeit the result of a strategy based on unfulfilled ambition that now looks to have relied too much on a virtuous circle of sales success, undone by circumstance and falling short.

Valid excuses aren’t hard to pick out - you don’t win by being cautious - but the cruel reality is that the likes of Volvo have risen, phoenix-like from near-doom, in the same market sector and with similar raw materials at their disposal, while upstart brands such as Tesla have leap-frogged the pecking order by being more ambitious still.

As you’ll read elsewhere, Jaguar’s model portfolio is on the ropes, in some cases potentially awaiting a hammer blow.

In sales terms the saloon portfolio is a disaster zone: the XE is a relative flop, the XF struggling and the XJ barely has a pulse. No matter that each is a very fine car, comparable (and more) in our road testers’ eyes with the best; sales are sales.

The F-Type sports car is as beautiful a car as there is on the road - and in those terms it serves its role as a halo model - but its sales figures cannot justify the investment.

Meanwhile, the E- and F-Pace SUVs provide some cheer, but what’s apparent from the drop in sales of the latter is that many buyers are simply opting now to purchase the former. Cannibalising your own customers (not to say those of the Land Rover Discovery Sport) cannot make great business sense, especially if they are buying the smaller, cheaper model.

But while strong demand for the low volume and low profit I-Pace offers scant relief, it does perhaps offer a hint at the future, as scooped by Autocar last year.

Analysts believe that a plan to reinvent Jaguar as an electric-only pioneer is well-advanced but not yet signed off. No doubt minds are very focused on that today. There’s no guarantees, especially in the current climate: it’ll take brave souls to call whether it will be catastrophic or transformative to its fortunes.

But there is a logic; the I-Pace arrived before the likes of the Mercedes EQC and Audi E-tron, yet beats them for range, price and - to my eyes at least - looks. It has also knocked the Tesla Model X and S into a runner-up spot in most dynamic comparison tests. There is a very real chance that it could stand as the finest car in its class for some time, and from that there is surely the perfect platform from which to build.

Word is that an electric-only XJ is a not far reality, adding the needed momentum to keep a rebirth alive. Beyond that, though, details are scarce, and the path to salvation no doubt hugely rocky; if the XE is culled - a PR nightmare in itself - can Jaguar really be brave (and wealthy) enough to reinvent it as a Tesla Model 3 competitor? Where does that leave the XE? How will the transition from legacy car maker to electric-only one be handled? Even a whiff of a reinvention could potentially scupper the sales of all of the existing models. Nobody wants to own an old car, after all, least of all one condemned by the march of progress.

But what’s the alternative? More of the same? Retreat and cling on to past glories? Focus energy on profitable Land Rover and let Jaguar muddle along?

Many a company has been reborn out of a major shock. Rather than lick wounds, maybe Jaguar personnel should see today as the first day of its salvation.

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