Jaguar: the cat that got the cream

Ford-owned Jaguar is defying the gloom hovering over the UK automotive industry by moving forward with the imminent launch of the compact X-type.

Acloud of gloom hangs over the motor industry. Car executives around the world — and in Europe in particular — are deeply worried about overcapacity. Vauxhall’s Luton plant and Ford’s at Dagenham are just two of the casualties.

To be working for a company where sales have doubled since 1998 and are confidently predicted to double again in the next year or so is the stuff of fantasy for most. But not at Jaguar. When Ford bought the luxury marque, now part of its Premier Automotive Group, in 1989, it was horrified at the amount of investment it had to pour in to bring quality up to scratch. Now Jaguar is a ray of sunlight amid the gloom.

Since Ford took over, Jaguar has relaunched the big XJ6/XJ8 saloon and replaced the XJ-S with the XK8. With the addition of the medium-sized S-Type just over two years ago, annual production rose from 50,200 — itself a record — to nearly 100,000 vehicles.

With the new, ‘compact’ X-Type, which goes on sale from June with prices starting from £22,000, Jaguar aims to pull off the trick a second time. ‘We doubled our volume with the S-Type and are about to do it again,’ says Colin Tivey, X-Type chief programme manager.

The task of designing the X-Type fell to a team with an average age of just 35, at Jaguar’s development site at Whitley near Coventry. Whitley itself has undergone considerable expansion under Ford ownership, with $80m invested over the past three years and the headcount having doubled to 2000 since 1995.

Despite the ease with which information can be shared over computer networks nowadays, Jaguar engineers rate it a considerable advantage to have the entire team, plus testing facilities, in one place. ‘It helps us to be small and nimble,’ says Tivey.

Tivey sums up the task facing the design team: to create a compact sports saloon embodying all the traditional Jaguar values. These the team defined as distinctive styling, refinement, a luxurious interior and a balance of agile handling and an effortless ride.’We set out to create a real driver’s car with a new expression of the Jaguar ride/handling balance, incorporating innovative technology with luxury and craftsmanship,’ says Tivey.

But to appeal to a younger, more diverse group of buyers — including a higher proportion of women, especially in Europe — it is designed to be practical and versatile.Three important groups of customers have been identified: young professionals without a family, which is a new area for Jaguar; middle management executives with a family, for whom space and practicality is a key requirement; and older customers whose children have left home, and so are switching from larger models.

Component and system targets

The X-Type engineers started from their statement of core Jaguar values to create targets for individual components and systems of the car. Underpinning two key attributes, refinement and responsive driving dynamics, is a body with a torsional stiffness of 22,000Nm/degree. Jaguar says this the best-in-class by a considerable margin.

A radical departure is the use of all-wheel drive. All previous Jaguars have had rear-drive. X-Type engineers refuse to be drawn on whether they would have preferred a rear-drive platform, instead stressing the handling benefits of the AWD set up.

‘AWD appeals to a range of drivers,’ says Tony Cartwright, Jaguar’s vehicle engineering manager for small sports saloons. ‘It gives brilliant dynamics and, with the transverse engine, great packaging — something Jaguar hasn’t excelled at before. We always wanted to do AWD; now we have the chassis.’

Torque is split 60/40 in favour of the rear wheels through a transfer box developed jointly with Visteon, and a viscous coupling developed with GKN to optimise traction on slippery surfaces. The cost and weight penalty is ‘not as great as you’d think’, says driveline team leader Lee White. ‘The upside is that stability is very good — the car will look after you — but we’ve also tuned it to give a bit of throttle driveability for the enthusiast.’

During the X-Type’s development Jaguar made extensive use of CAD simulation, but dynamics was one area where a great deal of subjective input, from a group of expert assessors, was built into the process.

‘We have a strong belief that is key to maintaining the Jaguar character,’ says Jeff Mitchell, vehicle dynamics team leader.

One area that received a lot of attention was steering feel. ‘This is not usually a strong suit in all-wheel drive cars,’ says Mitchell. ‘We were determined to do something about it.’ The team concluded that the problem was caused by drive torque being transmitted through the front suspension struts.

A simple but vital breakthrough improved matters dramatically: the inclusion of a second, inner bearing on the upper mount of the front struts, eliminating unwanted torque by allowing the strut piston to rotate freely relative to its cylinder.

Front and rear suspension share some components with the Mondeo but the package has been optimised and considerably modified at the rear to accommodate the rear differential.

This is carried by a hydroformed H-shaped subframe, and it is doubly isolated to reduce noise transmission, by rubber mounts between the diff and the frame, and between the frame and the car body. The multi-link rear suspension set up is a development of the ‘control blade’ system first seen on the Ford Focus, a compact setup that contributes to the X-Type’s feat of having the biggest-ever boot of any Jaguar.

Power is supplied by a choice of 24-valve quad cam AJ-V6 engines of 2.5 and 3.0 litres, developed from the S-Type’s 3-litre unit — engines which will eventually be built in Bridgend. Wales, following the investment announced this week. An important innovation is continuously variable valve timing, achieved by a hydraulic actuator between the cam chain and the camshaft itself, controlled by the engine management system. Combined with a new variable geometry intake manifold, it allows the engines to develop 80% of peak torque between 1400 and 7000rpm.

The new 32-bit Denso engine management system helps engines meet the Californian LEV and the European Stage IV emission standards.

Inside, the familiar Jaguar wood and leather interior disguises the fact that this is the most high-tech Jaguar ever. Just one strikingly modern option — a 7in multimedia touch-screen display in the dashboard — gives the game away. It provides the interface between the driver and the car’s audio system, satellite navigation, mobile phone, TV (with sound only when moving) and climate control.

Important functions can be selected by one of 137 voice commands. The JaguarNet system is optional, and offers 24-hour emergency assistance (called automatically if the airbag is deployed) as well as traffic information and details of local amenities.

The various modules of the multimedia system are linked by a D2B digital data bus, a single 1mm plastic optical fibre carrying pulses of red light at nearly 6MHz, which dispenses with a mass of copper wire, saving weight, space and cost.

If the X-Type is a success, Jaguar will have pulled off a remarkable coup. The former maker of low-volume, specialist luxury models will be selling as many cars as Rover, and pitting itself against BMW and Mercedes — a welcome reminder of what the UK industry can achieve. And that’s with the promised F-Type still to come….

Total transformation: the regeneration of Halewood

The Halewood plant, former home of the Ford Escort, has undergone a transformation both physically and culturally to produce the new X-Type.

When Jaguar took the plant over in 1998, with two years of Escort production still to go, it still suffered from an image dating back to the 1970s as a bed of militancy. Morale had been affected by uncertainty over the plant’s future and there was a ‘them and us’ attitude between the management and workforce.

But the workforce also had skills in producing cars at higher volumes than Jaguar was used to, and had great pride in having built the car that for many years was the UK market leader.

‘We had to get rid of outmoded practices and persuade people to adopt more flexible working patterns, with the emphasis on quality,’ says David Hudson, director of production operations. ‘But after years of uncertainty, our initial challenge was to convince the workforce that Jaguar meant business.’

Work started immediately on raising quality standards, training the workforce in new processes. Hudson’s team introduced a ‘three-pillar’ approach to bringing about the necessary improvements, based on quality, which had to be raised to the standards of Jaguar’s other plants; centres of excellence, by which new working practices were introduced in a controlled way; and culture change, to build new working relationships and trust.

Lean manufacturing principles — low inventory, elimination of waste, and just-in-time delivery — were introduced. Hudson says: ‘With reformed operating practices and a fresh working culture, our quality levels skyrocketed even before investment in new production equipment. That was entirely down to the people at Halewood. By the time production ended, defect rates had been halved and Halewood was producing the best quality Escorts ever.’

Then, in the summer of 2000, the physical transformation of the plant for the installation of new production lines began.

‘We had a perfect opportunity, probably unprecedented in the industry, to implement a vast training programme in summer 2000,’ says Hudson. ‘The workforce was already very close to matching Jaguar standards, and we still had six months to close the final gap.’

In all, since Jaguar took over Halewood employees have received over a million hours of training, including 700,000 hours on the job — equivalent to 350 hours for each employee.

The plant itself was completely refurbished in a £300m investment programme, with £43m in government aid. Totally new production lines were installed for body construction and the assembly area. In the paint shop, 70% of the equipment was replaced, reducing emissions of volatile gases and solvents.

A 26ha supplier park has been established alongside the plant to improve efficiency of just-in-time delivery. A new rail terminal will take 90% of export production on trains carrying 200 cars each. 3,000 jobs have been safeguarded and another 500 created locally. Production is beginning the climb to the planned annual rate of 100,000, which should be achieved by the end of this year.

It is a transformation that few would have predicted in 1998.

‘Halewod is a real success story. We’re very proud of the guys up there building Jaguars,’ says X-Type chief programme engineer Colin Tivey.