Thursday, January 29, 2015

Detroit Auto Show: what didn't catch our eye. Alas, the Jaguars....

Okay, so in my final post on this year's Detroit Auto Show let's talk about the elephant in the room ... er, make that the big cat in the room. The blandest looking set of cars at the entire show may have been the Jaguars.

As a newly minted Jaguar owner, it was a bit soul-crushing.

It was as if we stumbled across a batch of Volvos that somebody had accidentally dulled down then mis-badged.

"Look, Ma! Is that from Sweden? It looks boxy, but safe!"

I'm not kidding. Here's a randomly selected photo of a Volvo sedan, a 2011 Volvo S40:

Someday far in the future when mankind tries to pinpoint the exact day when the decline and fall of Western civilization became irreversible, some future historian will select the day on which it became difficult to tell the difference between a Jaguar and a 2011 Volvo sedan.

It didn't help that Jaguar chose a batch of charcoal grey cars for their display, either. It's as if there was a committee meeting in preparation for the auto show in which they took a vote based on the premise, "What's the dullest color we can display this year?"

Trying to put a brave face on it. In all fairness, the seat was pretty cushy.

Jaguar's design dull-down is something I'd noticed the last few years. But I'd never taken a direct interest in it before. However, now I need Jaguar to survive so that I can occasionally hand gobs of money over to the Jaguar dealership to do some things that only the Jaguar dealer can really do properly. (Like paying a couple hundred bucks for a spare key. Really. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.)

Of more interest to the current Jaguar company, now that I'm in your sphere you've already spent a lot of money this year trying to convince me to "upgrade" to a new Jaguar. And I could potentially be interested. But as the recent purchaser of an older Jag ("Big Smoky", my 1999 XJ Vanden Plas Supercharged saloon) here's what I need you to understand. I bought it and will keep it because it drives like supercharged butter. But I went to go look at it because it looks freaking great:

Departing for the Dream Cruise in my dream car.

How great does it look? It looks so great that I'll keep it even though an oil leak forced me to nickname it "Big Smoky!" Take another look at the snoozefest sedan. This is allegedly also a Jaguar XJ:

(Hey, gentle reader, WAKE UP! WAKE UP! Sorry, your nap was my fault for inflicting this dull, dull photo on you again.)

I'm not going to get into the corporate history of Jaguar's change in design language. But I am going to desperately ask them to return two words to that design language: "swoopy" and "sexy". Need an example? Here are a few photos I've taken of older Jaguars in the last couple of years. This is what a Jaguar used to be:

Jaguar XK140.

Jaguar XKSS.

Jaguar XKE roadster.

Jaguar XKE coupe.

This car looks so flippin' cool that it put a smile on my face even though I didn't really fit in it very well. Yes, it's true. If I ever get an XKE coupe it'll probably have to be a 2+2, not the smaller one. On the other hand, the 2+2 coupes look damn cool, too:

Jaguar XKE 2+2 coupe.

Look, it's not as if Jaguar never faced design criticism before. Every design since the E-Type has met with criticism of one sort or another. But they all still looked like Jaguars, not freaking Volvos.

Jaguar XJ-C coupe. Criminy. It's a brown mid-70s hardtop and it still looks freaking great.

Probably the most criticized car in Jaguar history was the XJS line that replaced the XKEs.

But one look and you knew it was a Jaguar:

Jaguar XJS coupe.

Jaguar XJS roadster.

And Jaguar used to know how to capture that heritage in updated designs. The XJ series that ran from 1994 to 2009 was a really nice update of the classic XJ design of the 70s and 80s:

Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas (left) and XJ6 (right).

Here's something else I learned this year after buying Big Smoky. A great-looking car holds up well in front of great scenery. Could I have taken these photos with a Volvo? I think not.

Big Smoky in the Badlands.

Big Smoky in front of the Grand Tetons.

There is one tiny glimmer of hope.

The new F-Type Coupe looks really sweet. Here was one parked among the E-Types at this year's Battle of the Brits. It didn't look out of place. Really. That's the biggest challenge possible and it passed. It is still possible to make a good looking car in 2015.

And guess what? The F-Type is the one Jaguar model that's selling well in North America in 2015.

Coincidence? I think not.

So, get off your butt, Tata Motors. It's time to make Jaguars that look like Jaguars.

Supposedly Jaguar founder Sir Williams Lyons designed Jaguars by sitting in his garden for inspiration. Go find whoever designed the F-Type, sit him in Sir Williams Lyons' garden, and put him to work on the rest of the line.

I understand that design changes don't happen overnight. But I really don't want to see this at the 2020 Detroit Auto Show:

Honest to Pete, after looking at the current crop of Jaguars I had to go into our garage when we got home just to cleanse the palate.

Big Smoky, was it just a bad dream?

Big Smoky slumbers on, hunkered down for the Michigan winter and only venturing outside on dry, salt-free days.

Oh, and as long as I'm beefing, bring back The Leaper:

Yeah, yeah, I know. It's not aerodynamic and European Union pedestrian safety rules now require.... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

It took Rolls-Royce about ten seconds to realize that if it wanted to keep its incredibly iconic Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament it would need to make one that popped up on demand when you were parked. Would it really be that hard for Jaguar to do the same with its own iconic hood ornament, even if its just a ridiculous option?

Does nobody in Coventry, England, remember what branding is all about?


  1. Couldn't agree more. As the proud owner of a BRG XJ8, I can now pity the fool that isn't in one!

  2. John, that series of posts is a fun read and a very thorough round up of this year's Detroit Auto Show, although, did you mention the lower level? Well, it wasn't much to write about this year anyway so, if not, that would be why.

    Tim and Jennifer, enjoy the new Jag!!