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Businesscar Awards Winner Profile: Jaguar

Date: 14 February 2012

A BusinessCar Award is only the start as Jaguar seeks to establish itself in a market dominated by German premium brands. Paul Barker finds out more

Jaguar has kicked off 2012 with BusinessCar's Executive Car of the Year award for the XF, beating some of the best corporate vehicles in the business to the prize. It's a good start to a year that should mark the British brand's relaunch into the business car market.

The XF 2.2 arrived last September, giving Jaguar a competitive four-cylinder product for the first time to take on the likes of BMW's 520d, which dominates 5-series sales. Prior to that, the XF's diesel offering only came from 3.0-litre engines, which, claims the firm took impressive market share, but of a small area of the sector compared with the more efficient and smaller-capacity diesels that corporate buyers in particular prefer.

That car is proving the catalyst for what is following in the early part of this year, with new engine and trim levels specifically for the corporate market (also see 'Meaning business', right) and, vitally, a structured plan to serve the fleet sector, something Jaguar hasn't had in recent years.

"When X-type finished production [in 2010] we purposely pulled back - there was a lot going on behind the scenes but we weren't overt as we weren't in a position where we had a fleet offering," explains Jaguar's UK sales director David Lewis. "The 2.2 opens the door for us and now we have a lot of things on the go. It's not just about getting the product right - we have to take the dealer network with us and keep them sharp with training and mystery shopping."

With the introduction of the 2.2 XF in September, Jaguar began seriously reengaging with the corporate sector. "We're now working round the contract hire and leasing companies and bigger fleet businesses with car park events," explains Lewis. "Contract hire and leasing companies are pretty biased towards German products just because they don't know our product. We're doing these events to show the car and get people to see it. We've never done car park events before on the scale we are now."

Lewis is hoping to use Jaguar's relatively low-key presence in the leasing industry as a positive. "I think one thing Jaguar could offer these people is diversification of their portfolio," he comments. "A number have said they would like to work with us as they see it as an opportunity to mitigate their risk. We are serious about corporate ­- we've spent a lot of time trying to understand the drivers of the business and we wouldn't have done the SE Business model (see 'Meaning business, opposite page) if we weren't."

One strand of evidence that proves Jaguar's increased focus on and investment in the corporate sector is the increase in the number of demonstration cars. "It's demand led.

I don't think you can make people wait more than four to six weeks for a demo," explains Lewis. "We were back into November from September, and that's just too long." That led to a 15-20 unit increase in cars, taking the firm up to around 90, some forming a central fleet for all dealers to use, and some with dealers if the site is doing a lot of corporate demonstrations. "Every dealer is dealing with SMEs and the test drives tend to be a little longer," adds Lewis.

Jaguar and sister brand Land Rover are in the process of revamping their corporate offering and looking at ways the two brands can work together under new Jaguar Land Rover UK managing director Jeremy Hicks.

Hicks joined the company from his previous role as UK boss of Audi, and the firm is currently pulling together a new corporate strategy under the man that oversaw Audi's large-scale sales increase in recent years. Although the plans are still to be finalised, they should see a complete strategy for making inroads in the corporate sector.

And it's not just about the XF. There are big plans for the luxury saloon XJ model, specifically in the chauffeur sector. "It's an increasingly competitive segment and I clearly believe we have the best car," says Lewis. "We're just beginning to make inroads into the chauffeur business in London - they are incredibly demanding people."

Jaguar has recently taken on an additional member of staff to deal specifically with the newly launched corporate chauffeur programme, which includes liability insurance for the first year and membership to Quintessentially concierge service.

"But we do need to focus on getting the cars seen. We've got work to do to increase the numbers of cars on the road because every car on the road is an advertisement - we've got a team looking at that now," continues Lewis. We've recognised that the chauffeur market it is an area of growth for us."

But the long-term aim is to establish Jaguar as an alternative in the business car market. "Corporate is such a long burn - it can take 12 months to get onto some lists - and we're working hard with blue-chip clients to make sure the XF is listed," says Lewis. "I don't remember a time where we've been as focused on the corporate market as we are now."

Meaning business

In an attempt to specifically address the corporate market, Jaguar recently announced a new engine and a new trim level for business users.

The 163hp version of the 2.2 diesel will arrive in March, taking the XF below £30,000 for a model that offers the same 149g/km and 52.3mpg official figures as its more powerful sibling. The price tag is the lowest in the market for a premium saloon equipped with an automatic gearbox. "We didn't want to devalue the 190hp version - it has the most power and torque out there. The 163hp car enables us to take up a different price position, and by dropping the power the top speed comes down, so there's a drop in insurance group and the running costs come down as well as the BIK," says Jaguar UK sales director David Lewis.

At the same time, Jaguar is also launching two new trim levels. The SE Business specification is designed specifically for the corporate sector, adding touch-screen satnav to the standard SE offering for an additional £1500.

"We're determined to provide the best value in the segment and I think we've achieved it," says Lewis. "It's £31,500 with full-blown nav - not a flash-card system with functionality taken out - leather and suede, eight-speed auto and standardised DAB. It's a great case for the corporate market."

The other new trim is the £34,950 Sport model available on the 190hp 2.2 diesel. It adds the aerodynamic pack and cosmetic interior improvement in a similar vein to the M-sport or S-line models popular from BMW and Audi respectively.

"When you design the spec of a car, you think of what you would want as a used buyer. That's what we've done with the SE Business Edition," Lewis continues. "It's got what people want when it comes in as a used car because we're focused on the residual value. We're pretty much the market leader on RV; it's a position we've worked hard to get to and we don't want to let it go. That is why Business SE and Sport are permanent additions to the range not limited editions, because we don't see them appearing on choice lists otherwise."

But it's not all sensible at Jaguar.

While Jaguar's most relevant news concerns the corporate and diesel elements of the business, there are also interesting developments at the other end of the scale. Launched last September in Coupe form and recently joined by a Convertible, the XKR-S is a supercharged 550hp rear-wheel drive monster capable of 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds and 186mph flat out.

At £97,000 in Coupe form or £103,000 as a Convertible, the XKR-S tops off Jaguar's UK range with a significant halo product.

We sampled the car recently, and found an excess of power versus grip in cool conditions on slippery roads, and astounding performance that almost instantly reaches any legal limit, yet at lower speeds it was a civilised beast that has all Jaguar's interior quality and comfort hallmarks.

But it's not completely off-limits to the corporate sector - according to Jaguar's UK sales boss David Lewis, one lucky punter has recently taken on a near-£100,000 Coupe on contract hire.