Jaguar shuts Coventry as Ford pulls the plug

Despite bucketloads of money being thrown at the brand (635 million pounds is one figure being bandied about), Ford has thumbed its nose at tradition and will stop producing Jaguar cars at the Browns Lane factory in Coventry. With some 400 redundancies, the assembly of Jaguars will transfer to the nearby Castle Bromwich plant.

Jaguar X-Type

In another move to bring a tear to the eyes of Big Cat owners, Ford are additionally shutting the doors on the Jaguar F1 project, and Cosworth Racing, the Ford owned subsidiary that makes the race engines for the F1 teams of Jaguar, Jordan and Minardi.

One of the reasons touted for Ford’s drastic actions has been the US dollar’s weakness against Sterling which has been making Jaguar cars uncompetitive price-wise in the US, which accounts for 50 percent of Jaguar’s sales. Other manufacturers such as Mercedes Benz, BMW and Lexus assemble their cars in the US, avoiding the risk of adverse exchange rate movements.

Ford reported a USD 362 million second quarter pre-tax loss for its Premier group, which includes Jaguar as well as Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo. With the parent company really trying to make every dollar count, you can understand the fact that commercial decisions have to be made.

However, is this exchange rate problem the only reason that Jaguar has been making a loss? There are many people who have been saying that despite all the new technology that has gone into the latest Jaguars, when the styling looks just like the vehicles did 10 years ago, this has put potential buyers off.

Undoubtedly, Jaguar rose to its prominence by producing radical new styling with landmark models such as the XK 120 and the E-type, but today’s X-type looks neither radical nor new.

No matter what the reason(s), Jaguar said it had been forced to take decisive action because the company was taking serious losses. “Our business as it currently stands is unsustainable,” said Joe Greenwell, Jaguar chairman and chief executive.

On the other side of the coin, Aston Martin has been coming up with new and very desirable motor cars and Ford has sweetened the UK unions by saying it was creating 300 new jobs at its Aston Martin factory at Gaydon in Warwickshire, while confirming it was going ahead with the production of a new sports car to go on sale in 2006. No problems with currency exchange for Aston Martin, it seems!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I mentioned a radical new steam car was built in London. The actual parts were made in Cornwall and they were shipped to London for assembly. The vehicle proved to be fast (for its day) and reliable, but it was dismantled after one year as nobody was interested in buying it. I asked what was the name of this vehicle, and what year was it built? It was called the “Celebrated London Carriage” and was built by Trevithick and Vivian in 1803. The 1803 entrepreneurs club certainly missed a golden opportunity.

So to this week. To beat the Googlers, take a look at the photograph with the quiz this week. What is the year and what is the car? Clue - it is not what you initially think it is! Suitably confused? I hope so.

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!

More on the Lumina Monaro CV8 coupe

Last week I mentioned the Holden Monaro CV8 Coupe, which has been sent to America as the Pontiac GTO. I postulated that with the Free Trade Agreement coming into force on January 1, 2005, this might make the Holdens, re-badged as Chevrolet Luminas, a viable proposition in this country. The current four door Luminas have a ticket price of just under 2 million baht for the 3.7 litre V6’s. With the FTA, what will they come down to? Something closer to the V6 Camry I would imagine.

So what would the V8 two door come in at? I would suggest they would come in at a price that could have the Mercedes dealers a little worried, as the CLK and the V8 Monaro are very similar in looks in many ways.

The V8 Lumina coupe is no slouch either, with zero to 100 kph a shade over 5 seconds and the quarter mile coming up in the 13 second bracket, which again would send a chill wind up many an MB’s skirts.

GM have the opportunity to launch a Mercedes challenger which would out-perform and undercut many of the German manufacturer’s models. Something to think about? Or something to wish about. I just received an email from Jerry Coffey in Fort Lauderdale in the US, with a clipping of the advert for the Pontiac GTO (how the Holden is badged in the US) and the price is around 1 million baht on straight currency conversion! Now that really does make me weep.

What did we learn from the Chinese Grand Prix?

Well first off we learned that ‘even’ Michael Schumacher, the umpteen times world F1 champion can make a mistake, which he did most comprehensively in qualifying to secure the rear grid slot for himself, while team mate Rooby Baby Barichello took pole. Was it deliberate, questioned my mate Alan Coates in the UK, but I doubt it. Schumi just went in too fast and blew it. Then he did it again during the race, not once, but twice, as well as wheel-to-wheel banging with Christian Klien’s Jaguar, resulting in the youngster retiring with rear suspension damage, which only went to prove that Klien is still an inexperienced racer (and shouldn’t be in F1) and Ferraris are not only very fast, they are very strong. However,Michael Schumacher did show that he never gives up.

Much was made of the fact that the first three finishers were all very close, but in all honesty none of them (Barichello, Button, Raikkonen) were in the position of being able to challenge each other by the end of the race.

We did learn that the design of the 5.4 km circuit from architects Hermann Tilke and Peter Wahl did allow plenty of room (or opportunities) for passing, and we were pleasantly surprised to see much passing and repassing, the one aspect of F1 that has been missing for too long. However, since the Shanghai circuit cost 250 million dollars to construct, this is just a little out of the reach of most countries or race organizers.

We also learned that it wasn’t Schumi Junior’s day either. He was going better than his team mate, but then had a coming together with David Coulthard, after DC tried a very optimistic passing manoeuvre, having read that the new circuit made passing possible! The end result was a rapidly deflating rear tyre on the Williams BMW and a couple of quick spins for Ralf. When he then made it into the pits, total confusion reigned, as Montoya was coming in for his routine stop at the same time. With Ralf thinking he had suspension damage, he got out of the car, thinking that it would be pushed away into the garage. However, with Montoya now arrived in the pits for fuel and tyres, he was dealt with first, following which they then looked at Ralf’s car - all it needed was a new tyre, and the Williams team told Ralf to get back in. As could be clearly seen on the video coverage, Ralf said “No,” most emphatically. There is no doubt that Williams F1 is not the happiest of teams at present. We also could see that Ralf Schumacher does give up, as opposed to his big brother.

Renault’s signing of Jacques Villeneuve did nothing to add more points to their score as they desperately try to overhaul BAR, with JV finishing 11th behind Webber’s Jaguar. As a headline-grabbing item, getting JV back in the car was good pre-event publicity, but of little point in the long run. Getting BAR’s Davidson to drive it would be much better.

Just when is somebody going to give Davidson a real race seat? As third driver for BAR, he is consistently faster than both Button and Sato, and does not have a reputation for throwing the cars into the shrubbery, or exploding the engines. A huge talent that should not be wasted in 2005.

Mentioning BAR, the Chinese GP showed what a sterling drive Sato put on. From 18th on the grid to finish 6th was superlative. Button did finish second, but also started from the pointy end of the grid, not from way down in the boonies. And I still wonder at Button, fighting to join Williams F1, when he has a car and a team in BAR that could give him 2nd place at the GP. Where were the Williams drivers? Never in the hunt.

New petrol price scare!

With the price of crude oil going up and up, where is the bottom line at the pumps going to be? Will we ever see this at the patrol station near you? By that stage, I would imagine that the powers that be in this country will have restricted trading hours to between 8 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. in the mornings and another half hour from 5 p.m. in the afternoons.

Thank you George Comino for sending this one over!

There’s a hole in the road in Chiang Rai

One of my motorcycling buddies is David Unkovich from Chiang Mai, a man who knows the north of Thailand better than anyone, being involved in making the best maps of the North and now Laos as well. As well as documenting all the left and right turns, he has found he has to report on what is under the motorcycle as well. This photograph shows him standing in a “hole” he found in Chiang Rai, and he reckons it has been there for two months.

If you suck the water out of it David, you will probably hear Colombian music, so it is probably the direct drug pipeline to South America! That’s the most logical explanation! In the meantime it would be best to tell the police to guard it, so it doesn’t get away. Rampant holes in the road are dangerous.