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Jaguar: Prepared for fleet lift-off

Date: 10 December 2014   |   Author:

The XE is the most important car in Jaguar's history, says UK boss Jeremy Hicks, and preparations for a fleet assault have long been underway, as Paul Barker discovers

Jaguar's re-entry into the critical premium upper medium segment and the associated importance of the business car sector in achieving success will be one of the biggest stories of 2015.

The new XE is being squarely targeted at BMW's 3-series in the aspirational compact premium segment, and the firm has acknowledged that it needs to up its game in the corporate sector.

"The XE is the most important car in Jaguar's history - it changes everything for Jaguar," managing director of Jaguar Land Rover Jeremy Hicks tells BusinessCar ahead of the car's launch into the UK market in May next year, although the increase in focus on the corporate sector has been building over the past two years.

"We recognise that in order to compete in the corporate marketplace you've got to have a strong brand and a car that looks good; that gets you through the door to get people into it," Hicks continues. "We built the fleet team 18 months to two years ago, and the JLR dealer network at the same time - a lesson I've learned is that you have to invest ahead of sales not after them." He says the fleet sales team is already at the size it needs to be to deal with the anticipated huge surge in volume that will come with the XE, although the dealer fleet specialist numbers will increase.

"Dealers need to prepare for a doubling in levels of enquiries. We have been working with the network on capacity planning and what it means in terms of people, capability and premises," he says, adding that developing a "corporate footprint" is almost as important as the XE itself in securing Jaguar's future.

Tongue-in-cheek, Hicks describes Jaguar's move back into the premium compact saloon area and taking on the might of the BMW 3-series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-class as "like the kid walking into the school playground, finding the three biggest kids and thumping them", such is his bullish outlook for the new model's success. "It has high levels of appeal, the car looks good, it drives well and it's great value, so it will be bang on in there," he declares.

Monthly payments are a key focus, and Jaguar has been engaging with the residual value providers and contract hire companies. While RVs haven't yet been declared, Hicks says they will be "very positive", and within percentage points either way against the 3-series, a car the XE has been priced to line-up against, when comparing Euro6-compliant engines. "Monthly payments are very important to fleet customers, and good benefit-in-kind and fuel economy are very important, and I know we will be good compared to our rivals," he says.

Although loath to give volume targets for the XE, Hicks says Jaguar is looking for "our fair share of the market", with the figure of just under 20% of the compact premium saloon sector, matching that achieved by the executive sector XF, a realistic goal. "The volume is made up of three major players and we think there is room for us," he says. "We're not predicting huge numbers. The XF has established itself very positively so we should do in the XE segment what we did with XF through product strength."

The increase in numbers of corporate specialists in Jaguar and Land Rover dealerships has seen 30 of each now working within the respective networks, and although it's been part of the ramp-up to XE, Hicks says the move is already paying dividends with increased XF volume. "As soon as we got competitive CO2, it has taken off," he explains, referring to the 129g/km version of the 2.2-litre diesel, which launched last year.

"We are where we want to be in terms of preparedness. We've been on a journey for two years and been quietly preparing ourselves," Hicks concludes, explaining that every dealer in the country has reviewed the size it will need to be in 2019 with regard to aspects including staff, aftersales capacity and parking. "In three years' time I predict you won't recognise the JLR network from now."