10 years ago, Jaguar were virtually bankrupt, today they’re recording record sales and challenging the might of the Germans in almost all sectors of the car market. This week, Stelvio Automotive looks back at the car which saved the biggest of the UK’s big cats from extinction, the Jaguar XF.

By Sean Smith

Another week (and a bit) another article; and this is one I’ve been thinking on for a while so it better be good. Today is going to be one of Stelvio Automotive’s history lessons and as you may have worked out from the title and introduction, it’s going to be on Jaguar. More specifically; the car that took Jaguar through the huge changes of ownership from Ford to Tata and then onwards to become the car that made them roar again. We are of course talking of the Jaguar XF.

The XF is the mid-sized executive saloon car of the Jaguar family, these days between the XE and the XJ. It is a rival to the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-class and Audi A6 and is the only real contender to the German dominance in this particular market. The car costs from about £32,000 to £51,000 for the top of the range XF-S and all models have the coolest gear changer in the world which is a dial that rises from the centre console (above), but I digress.

It began life in the bleakest time of Jaguar’s recent history when the company was trying to be sold off along with Land Rover to basically anyone who would take it. Ford, their parent company for the last 27 years, was haemorrhaging money both on its own and from Jaguar and Land Rover. This was even before the financial crisis had occurred and back then Jaguar had spent the decade thus far losing millions of pounds a year with their failed F1 project and ever declining sales.

Ford were largely to blame due to their chokehold on Jaguar’s development budget which meant that the company’s main cars, the X-Type and the XF’s predecessor the S-Type were little more than re-dressed Fords built, developed and updated for as little as money as possible. As a result they were no match in quality or performance to BMW, Mercedes or Audi at the time and the cars continued to lose market share every year. The S-Type had gone from as many as 53,000 cars sold per year in 1999 to only 11,000 by 2007.

Jaguar had to do something. They’d just launched the latest XK the year before (which I will definitely do a story on eventually) which had shown that Jaguar had what it took even with their limited resources to get a job done. But they had to repeat the trick with the XF in order to impress potential buyers. If they hadn’t, they would have probably gone under when the financial crisis finally hit.

Come January 2007 and at the North American Auto Show, Jaguar showed the C-XF (above), the final concept which would almost entirely become the end product later that year. The car was a hit with the media and fans. Then finally in September at Frankfurt we met the XF in full production form (codenamed the X250). Sales occurred instantly and customers began receiving their brand new cars by March 2008, the XF was a hit.

During that time though, Ford had managed to lose interest from JCB, who had wanted to buy the company since 2006 but declined because they didn’t want Land Rover. They had also lost interest from Indian bike manufacturer Mahindra and not taken the deals from an array of consortiums all interested in making a deal. But on January 1st 2008 it was announced that Tata were the “preferred buyers” and a couple of months later (after everyone had Googled who Tata were) the deal was officially announced that Jaguar would be sold along with Land Rover and some other ex-Ford assets to the Indian company for £1.7bn.

Tata were on a spending spree back then as they had also bought Corus Steel in 2007 and had acquired other brands including Tetley Tea since 2000. The plan was very simple. Give Jaguar what it needed to succeed (the same business model which Fiat had done with Ferrari since the late 60s) and reap the rewards later. Jaguar were about to go on the steepest development curve of its 70 year history.

When the Financial Crisis finally hit in 2008/9 Jaguar, posing itself as an expensive, even more up-market brand, could have been wiped out overnight. But this is where the XF saved the company.

In 2009 sales figures were at 30,906 cars, this number was nearly triple that of the S-Type in its final year, but more importantly, this number was almost the lowest point through the entire global recession. In 2013 when the coast finally started to clear, the XF sold 47,391 units and stayed strong all the way through the car’s Gen 1 lifecycle, ending back at 35,675 in 2015 before the Gen 2 XF (codenamed X260) appeared in showrooms this year.

The resilience showed by the XF was astonishing, although it was moving up-market; it still kept enough options and had enough development to allow a large enough audience to choose the car. This would be evident in fleet sales; people who chose the XF liked the XF and stayed with the XF through its entire development.

The current XF is a development further of the original car. It features an all-aluminium chassis making the car 190kg lighter than the Gen 1 and is 7mm lower, all in the interest of improving the cars handing and aerodynamics against its German rivals. The new car carries on where the Gen 1 left off in terms of ever improving engines in terms of power and efficiency and all this will help the XF in its second stage of life.

It all proves that Tata did the right thing in having the confidence to give Jaguar the resources to develop the car as it felt it needed to. This allowed them to carve their own section in the market. Jaguar went on to take away sales from the XF as the XE (which is basically the same car but smaller) and the XJ (which is a super luxurious version of the XF’s chassis and ideology) entered the market.

All this expansion in the line-up and development of its cars to keep track with modern demands has led to Jaguar posting a multitude of profits and sales of over 500,000 units in the last couple of years. They were even in talks to buy Silverstone, something unthinkable a decade ago.

Jaguar will have to continue their technological push and up their marketing to catch the Germans further. To this end they have entered Formula E as a works manufacturer and back in 2010 they produced the C-X75 (below) which had a diesel turbine hybrid power unit. But for whatever future high tech future they have, let’s remember that it was the XF which saved the big cat name and allowed for all of it to happen.