COVENTRY - Michael Dale has seen the best and worst of Jaguar in North America. He remembers when the company's reputation was that of a crumpled wreck on the scrapheap of automotive history. Buyers deserted Jaguar showrooms because of poor quality.
But today, Jaguar's sales in the region are expected to soar by 50 percent next year to 23,000. This would be a fitting tribute to the efforts of the racing driver-turned-aviator who will retire in 18 months.
As president of Jaguar North America, Dale experienced 'the lowest point of my career - having to fire two vice presidents, one a close friend. But we had to save the company.
'It was a terrible time but the steps we took worked and we managed to turn the business around. After losing $400 million in 1992 and selling just 8,600 units, Jaguar is now making good profits on the back of improved in quality.
Dale is proud of the transformation in the company's fortunes, 'but I'm even more pleased when I look at our current used-car rating. The value of a two-year-old Jaguar that has covered 24,000 miles (38,600km) is now $8,000 higher than it was two years ago. That tells you what quality is really worth,' says Dale.
Dale can point to another demonstration of how Jaguar's reputation for quality has improved. Two years ago, the airplane manufacturer Raytheon, based in Wichita, Kansas, launched a limited-edition Jaguar version of its Beech King Air C90B business turbo-prop plane.
The planes have Jaguar-style trim throughout and the 'Big Cat' logo on the fuselage.
All 12 planes, each with a $2.6 million price tag, have been sold.
Dale denies that his decision to go ahead with this unusual collaboration had anything to do with his love of flying.
'I'm as pleased about that as they are because our association with Raytheon has been great for our image. It also has a lot to do with our sales being up 20 percent this year,' he says. Dale piloted one of the high-flying Jaguars on a 16-hour transatlantic trip to Coventry airport, just down the road from Jaguar's Browns Lane headquarters.
He admits that cars come a close second to the real love of his life. 'As a boy during World War Two, I fell in love with aircraft - even though some of the German planes flying over Birmingham were not too friendly at the time,' he says.
Forty-five years after leaving the UK's Royal Air Force, Dale still flies about 100 hours a year. His two planes, a PT17 and a Purcival Provost, are hangered about 20 minutes' drive from the New Jersey home he shares with his wife Mary, who is also a qualified pilot.
Eight years of painstaking restoration work was rewarded recently when his Purcival Provost was named reserve champion by judges at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, home of the world's biggest air show. He first trained on a Provost, and his is one of only seven still flying.
So how did he get into land transport?
'But by the time I was 21, I'd had the great fortune to meet Donald Healey. I spent two years driving, selling and servicing his cars and it proved to be a wonderful education,' says Dale. 'That's what took me into Austin Healey and BMC.'
What attracted Dale to Jaguar was its sporting connection, 'but I've grown to love it as much for the teamwork as the product. The company has done a stunning job, particularly in the USA, and I'm thrilled it ranks fourth in the J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey.'
In the customer handling area, Jaguar holds second place, just six points behind Lexus. 'What's happened to our brand is nothing short of a miracle and I get enormous satisfaction from being part of it,' says Dale.
'The one last thing I'd like to see before I leave is that no other car company in the world handles its customers better than Jaguar - I'm sure it will happen soon.'