PAGitude: How Much Mileage is Left in Land Rover, Jaguar and Volvo?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
pagitude how much mileage is left in land rover jaguar and volvo

Now that Ford has put the remainder of its Premier Automotive Group (PAG) on eBay, it's time to evaluate the soon-to-jettisoned divisions' prospects. As "going concerns," Land Rover and Jaguar are like a cartoon character who just ran off a cliff; the only thing that keeps them from plunging into oblivion is [momentary] ignorance that they're about to plunge into oblivion. Business wise, Volvo is the Daffy Duck of the group: a major star that somehow graduated to the role of successful sidekick. As brands, well, that's a different matter. Or, as it turns out, not.

From a branding perspective, Land Rover is an unmitigated disaster. No surprise there; the brands' products have earned their manufacturer a worldwide reputation for bad engineering and poor reliability. A brand can only get so far playing the snob card. An off-roader that's destined to leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere (or the Neiman Marcus parking lot) is a less coherent brand proposition than a $250 McDonald's Happy Meal.

Sad but true: Land Rover's imperious off-roaders are only marginally more reliable than a love-struck teenager. In 2005, Land Rover was third to last in JD Powers' Initial Quality Survey. In the following year, Land Rover fell to last place– and then stayed there for '07. Engine power problems, exploding gearboxes, inaccurate fuel gauges, electronic gremlins– Landies live at the bottom of every automotive reliability survey conducted in the last six years.

The implications are clear. Given the depth and severity of these self-inflicted wounds, Land Rover's resurrection would require at least a decade of flawless [re]engineering and manufacture, and an epic warranty.

Why bother? SUV's are a dead genre guzzling. Land Rover's barely double digit mpg mules are both dead AND damned. And the competition's kicking Land Rover's arse in mud plugging (Jeep, FJ), price and reliability (from Hyundai to Toyota), fuel efficiency (you name it), and on-road performance (Porsche, BMW, Infiniti). There is nowhere for this go-anywhere brand to go– save the dumpster.

Jaguar. As The Bonzo Dog Doh-Dah Band would say, dear dear dear oh dear dear dear oh dear dear oh dear no. While Ford gets maximum props for banishing most of the most egregious mechanical gremlins bedeviling Jaguar, Dearborn's darlings have all-but-destroyed the British automaker's mission critical cachet.

It's bizarre. Sir William Lyons left clear instructions for his brand: pace and grace. Under Ford's stewardship, Jaguar has fashioned a lineup of vehicles that can only watch their German equivalents disappear into the horizon, whose sheetmetal displays less grace than a meth-crazed mosh pit dancer. A Ford Taurus nose on an XK? Puh-lease.

Much has been made of Jag's ruinous move down-market. But the success of BMW's, Audi's and Mercedes' entry level machines proves that Jag screwed-up in X-ecution, not concept. The X-Type was an under-engineered mini-me version of the XJ sedan, which was an aluminum-skinned clone of the previous XJ, which was an "homage" to the XJ that preceded the model it replaced. You can't make this shit up.

Ostensibly, Jaguar could return to Sir Billy's formula. Unfortunately, Jag's non-Teutonic competitors have filled the pace and grace mindspace. Maserati and a resurgent Alpha have nailed it. More importantly, Lexus' L-Finesse style has given their products something very much resembling sex appeal. Equally disheartening, Jag's last shot, the new XF, only gets it half right: it's pace without grace. Nope, Jag's day is done.

And so to Volvo, the sensible Swede that sells safety. Despite Ford-sponsored attempts to add speed (racing station wagons?) and sex appeal (convertibles?) to the brand, Volvo remains a fundamentally boring proposition: the automotive equivalent of nurse's shoes. Well, there are a lot of people out there all looking for the world's most comfortable shoes, and plenty of people who'll buy a safe boring car over a less safe boring car.

Volvo's safety shtick has such a powerful hold on the public imagination that the automaker could arrive unfashionably late to America's jam-packed SUV party tendering a woefully underpowered model- and STILL clean house. Seventeen years after Chrysler launched the Town and Country, a properly constructed Volvo minivan would perform the same feat.

As Volvo customers don't expect frequent model updates, a new owner could take their time to improve the marque's models' reliability. And there's no reason why Volvo couldn't or shouldn't move down market, to become a full-line manufacturer of dull, safety-oriented automobiles. Anyway, the fact that Volvo is the only member of PAG banking bucks tells you all we need to know about the brand's strength.

In sum, it's no wonder buyers eyeing-up Jaguar and Land Rover are [allegedly] insisting on some sort of Volvo bundling deal; Volvo is the only PAG brand with any life left in it. In fact, there's so much life left in the brand Ford should consider keeping it and selling off Mercury (as if) or Lincoln instead.

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  • Nino Nino on Jun 21, 2007

    I still feel that there’s hope for Jaguar. Looking at Jaguar’s history with Ford, the reason I feel that they haven’t had any success is that the cars have too much retro styling and that while the concepts were sound (I’m thinking “X” Type here), the execution wasn’t there. The “X” Type should’ve used a rear wheel VOLVO platform from which a real challenger to the BMW 3 series could be built. At the same time, Ford could’ve used a larger version of the MX5 Miata platform to resurect the “E” Type sports cars; the type of cars that put Jaguar on the map back in the day. It goes without saying that knock out styling should’ve been part of the equasion as well.

  • Borderinsane Borderinsane on Jun 24, 2007

    @mcfeeny: Splitting PAG from Ford would follow the Ford/Visteon spin-off. Initially all shared functions are held by Ford, with a roadmap to pull the plug on supporting the spinoff. My guess is, it would take 1 to 2 full release cycles -- 2 to 8 years -- to complete the spinoff.

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