COVENTRY, UK - The first thing that a visitor notices when driving up to the TWR Jaguar dealership on Fletchamstead Road is the prominence of two huge, chrome-plated 'leapers.'
The leaping cat is the symbol of Jaguar Cars Ltd., and the image features prominently at TWR, Jaguar's flagship dealership in Coventry, the luxury automaker's headquarters in the English Midlands. One cat looms over the top of the highest point of the roof, and the other is atop a pillar in front of the building.
The cats might also symbolize the great leap forward Jaguar is asking its dealerships to make to get ready for the new S-type sedan, due to arrive in dealerships next spring.
TWR - Tom Walkinshaw Racing - is probably best known for its Formula One racing profile with the Arrows team. But as an engineering specialist group, only 15 percent of TWR's $553.5 million sales involve motorsport. Most is generated by services to the automotive industry.
TWR owns several other dealerships in the Midlands region, and has invested £2.3 million ($3.8 million) in the Coventry dealership. It is designed as a showplace for visitors who come from around the world to visit Jaguar headquarters.
Worldwide, Jaguar dealers have spent $2.5 billion refurbishing their buildings in preparation for the hoped-for increase in business.
As the flagship, TWR is the way Jaguar wants its dealerships to look in the next century. The dealership's interior is cavernous - big enough to accommodate twice the number of customers who visit right now.
TWR currently sells about 225 vehicles a year, new and used combined.
'Everything is based not on today, but where we want to be in four years' time,' said Noel Gaston, TWR's general manager.
Cream and green, the Jaguar colors, dominate the open, airy interior. A wall covered with aluminum panels set in place with pop rivets is designed to evoke the legendary E-types and D-types in Jaguar's racing
Gaston said two elements were critical to the new dealership, which opened in July. First, unlike the previous TWR store, this one must be air conditioned so the doors can be kept shut in the summertime, keeping out traffic noise, fumes and dust.
Second, used and new Jaguars get equal prominence. 'I don't see why used-car customers should be separated from new-car customers,' said Gaston. 'They're all buying a car from us.'
Customers entering the store are immediately faced with reception desks. There are windows everywhere, so the staff can keep an eye on the sales floor. In addition to the glass wall in his second-story office overlooking the floor, Gaston has four TV monitors so he can keep track of everything that goes on. The parts and service manager can see both the showroom floor and the repair shop from windows in his office.
Jaguar expects S-type to double its volume as a manufacturer, so dealers like TWR will hope for an equivalent increase in sales. The growth won't stop there. Coming along several years after the mid-luxury S-type is the baby Jaguar, code-named X400, which is still in the design phase and which will compete against the Mercedes-Benz C-class and BMW 3 series. Jaguar is counting on the X400 to take sales to about 200,000 units a year in 2002.
Increasingly, Jaguar wants its dealerships to stand alone, rather than be paired with others.
At its previous location in Coventry, TWR Jaguar shared space with TWR Mazda, which now occupies the former site on its own.
'We want to send a message that we are younger. We have moved away from the traditional dark panelling,' said Jaguar Chairman Nick Scheele. 'We want to promote more accessibility, more desire to deal with individuals and an altogether a more modern appearance.'