Stories of declining brands abound, more so in a brand-driven market like the luxury car segment. And Jaguar which was once synonymous with sophistication and style finds its brand image eroded while competitors thrive.

So where did they go wrong? When Ford bought Jaguar in 1989, the ‘Big Cat’ was perceived to be low on reliability but their designs were admired. The powers-that-be at Ford thought they had their task cut out. Funding was flooded into the engineering department and phrases like ‘British engineering’ and ‘the art of performance’ were communicated to the populace. However, experts feel that over the years they did not change their designs and stuck to rather traditional ones while the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Lexus made their cars more and more stylish and thus began Jaguar’s decline.

Jaguar has been criticized for letting the look of their cars age. Research shows Jaguar buyers are older than the average luxury car shopper. According to George Magliano, director of automotive industry research at Global Insight, Jaguar is suffering from an ageing audience. “I don’t think people under 60 are aware of the luster of the Jaguar brand name”, says Magliano. In the luxury car market where it is important to stand out in terms of design Jaguar has lost out to its German rivals. And this has happened to a brand that was once remembered for revolutionary designs such as the 1960 E-type which was in its time a benchmark for sports car design.

The 2001 S-type and the 2003 XJ typify Jaguar’s old-fashioned design –
The design was not the only reason for the decline. Some Jaguars are built on platforms used for Ford cars and several parts in the Jaguar were shared across several brands of Ford. Even though this habit is common in the industry, Jonathan Linkov, Consumer Reports’ managing editor for automobiles, feels that this might have hurt Jaguar’s image and quality. Also, the engines used in the older Jaguar cars were repeated in the newer versions. At the rate at which BMW, Mercedes and Audi dish out new engines, they have probably come up with a few as you are reading this! Their engines are more powerful and more advanced as a result and Jaguar has been left behind.

Being one of Ford’s several brands could be a disadvantage and in Jaguar’s case, it is evident that the brand has not received the focus and funding it needs desperately. But now, under the ownership of Tata, Jaguar is seen as a ‘jewel in the crown’ and that shows. In the middle of 2009, Jaguar came up with a new campaign for its brand, with a new positioning for Jaguar cars – “GORGEOUS”. Take a look at the new advert –

The reason Jaguar can go for such a bold campaign is that the designs for the next generation Jags (result of Ford’s last efforts to rebuild the brand) have been received exceedingly well. American talk-show host Jay Leno said during the unveiling of the 2010 XJ, “If you say to yourself that this doesn’t look like a Jag… I’m sorry… you’re officially an old guy”. The pictures tell the tale of an obvious effort to create more modern looking Jags.

While Jaguar seems to be getting back on its feet in terms of sales, there’s more good news. Jaguar has topped the 2009 JD Power & Associates Vehicle Dependability Study, beating Lexus. The fact that Jaguar has risen from No.10 in 2008 to No.1 in 2009 shows their engineers have done their part.

With the designers and engineers playing their roles to perfection, the brand’s marketers now face a behemoth challenge. Jaguar was once believed to be poorly built and old fashioned. They must now continue to build the style factor and also communicate the fact that Jags are among the most reliable cars in the world. This, however, is easier said than done. Jaguar’s marketers seem to be on the right track, but they still have a long way to go before they can resurrect the Big Cat’s past glory.

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