In advance of its public debut at the upcoming Frankfurt show, Jaguar has dropped a front 3/4 beauty shot and other images of its new compact crossover. Since there’s no shortage of wailing and gnashing of teeth from those who see this as a Porsche Cayenne level brand heresy, and since I’m a contrarian non-comformist by nature, I’m going to swim against the stream and say that the CX-17 or whatever they end up calling it, makes sense, or at least it can in today’s market. Compact (and smaller) crossovers are the hot thing in the car biz these days. Lexus just released images of a LF-NX compact crossover concept that presumably will also be revealed at the Frankfurt show. GM is looking to shuffle production because GM Korea can’t build enough Buick Encores and Opel Mokkas. Land Rover is having record monthly sales, in part due to the success of the Evoque.
Which raises the question, why build a small Jaguar crossover when Jaguar Land Rover already builds the Evoque? That’s a good question but I think JLR’s product planners understand the difference between a Jaguar and a Land Rover, and also between a Land Rover and a Range Rover. If you note, the Evoque is branded as a Land Rover, not a Range Rover. JLR already offers two different flavors of midsize SUVs, built on the same platform, the LR4/Discovery and the sportier, more elegant Range Rover Sport, and that distinction is carried over to the company’s full size SUVs, the Range Rover and the Land Rover Defender, which is not currently sold in the U.S. While there is plenty of component sharing being done, the company appears to carefully distinguish between the luxurious Range Rovers and the more utilitarian Landies.
Why then market a luxury compact SUV as a Jaguar and not a Range Rover? Another good question and I’m sure those product planners have considered it. I don’t have a great answer for that question but I do think it oddly might have something to do with not wanting to affect the Range Rover subbrand, seen an a vehicle with all of the capabilities of a Land Rover, but also comfortable and truly luxurious. Right now there are only two vehicles that carry the Range Rover brand, the original full size version and the Sport, which as alluded to above is really a LR4 with Range Rover looking body panels and a Range Rover looking interior. I’m sure that plenty of people think that the Range Rover Sport is a sporty variant of the Range Rover, rather than an upscale LR4.
Making an entry level Range Rover might be like Packard offering the “junior” Packards in the 1930s, good in the short term but long term it may lower the prestige of the brand. The question might be better phrased as “why not a compact Range Rover crossover?”
If a crossover at that price point might hurt Range Rover, then won’t it hurt the Jaguar brand? Jaguar has no reputation as a builder of utility vehicles, upscale or utilitarian, at all, so they have no reputation in that segment to hurt, just as Porsche didn’t with the Cayenne. We enthusiasts may bemoan the “damage” that the Cayenne does to the Porsche brand, but the simple truth is that the Cayenne makes SUVs full of cash for Porsche and the VW group. Selling a compact crossover as a Jaguar may have less downside than as a Range Rover, with just as much upside or more.
There’s also the issue of brand recognition. Though we live in an age when even non-enthusiasts know that a Lotus is a kind of sports car and hip hoppers rap about Aventadors, I’d still guess that Jaguar has better brand recognition, particularly in the U.S., than either Land Rover or Range Rover.
Just as JLR probably knows the difference between a Land Rover and a Range Rover, they know the difference between those brands and Jaguar. I’m guessing that you do too. Do I have to lay out how a Jaguar crossover would be different than one with the LR or RR brand? Just as Porsche can and does market the Cayenne as an authentic Porsche, heir to Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche’s sports cars, so Jaguar can sell the CX-17 as the Jaguar of crossovers, with an air of cosseting that even Range Rovers don’t have. A proper suburban car, a Jaguar crossover would not have to have all of that off-road-ready gear that buyers of Land Rovers and Range Rovers expect on their vehicles, even if they may never use it. It could also trade on the part of Jaguar’s heritage that has to do with performance, just as Porsche has done. Just writing that it seems to me that Jaguar can bring more in terms of brand image to a crossover than Porsche can with its new Macan. Porsche is known as a maker of sports cars. Jaguar is known as a maker of fast, luxurious and comfortable cars.
Or, think of it this way: do you think the average suburban mom would rather drive a vehicle with a Land Rover, Range Rover or Jaguar nameplate on it?
It might work. We all laugh at the “Jeep” Compass, intended to sell to people put off by the more rugged looks and capabilities of the Patriot. The decision by Chrysler to build both of those Jeeplets from the same platform (shared with the also derided Dodge Caliber), again, is one of those things that prompts a lot of critical questioning? How much better would the Patriot have been if money wasn’t spent on the Compass? The answer is who knows? If you note, the Compass survived Chrysler’s bankruptcy, has been refreshed a couple of times, and you can buy a brand new 2014 model at your local Jeep dealer. I assume that after all that the reason why you can still buy them is that they are profitable for Chrysler. Selling a compact Jaguar crossover in the same showroom as a Land Rover Evoque might also be profitable.
Ultimately, profitability is the measure of success in the auto industry. Performance, brand image and all the rest don’t really matter as long as a car or truck turns a profit. The reason why JLR will sell this as a Jaguar and not a Land Rover is because they think they’ll make more money that way. I think they’re right.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS