Mike O'Driscoll faces an executive's toughest task: how to replace a living legend. After 42 years at Jaguar, Mike Dale stepped down in May as president of Jaguar Cars North America, leaving the top job to O'Driscoll.
O'Driscoll, 44, came from Lincoln Mercury, where he was the Washington, DC, regional manager. Before that, though, he had spent 20 years at Jaguar, peaking as US general sales manager. And he has British Racing Green in his blood - he grew up in Coventry, England, Jaguar's hometown.
At Jaguar's 2001 product presentation to the media in Pasadena, California, O'Dris-coll spoke with Automotive News Europe reporter Mark Rechtin.
What has it been like taking over from Mike Dale?
I have different challenges. Many of Mike's challenges were about survival of Jaguar, whereas mine are more about growth. I've taken over at a critical point in our development, not just in North America but also globally. We are on the brink of tremendous growth, perhaps fourfold in as many years.
What I'm entrusted with is growing the North American business and transitioning our brand toward appealing to a younger and more diverse audience. We will always be aspirational; we're trying to make it more accessible.
Can you do that? Aren't those ideas mutually exclusive?
Yes we can, when put in the context of the overall luxury market and the volumes our competitors are selling. We're aiming at 75,000 cars per year, not 140,000 or 190,000, so there are still fewer Jaguars on the road. Each car is individually developed for a specific segment, not as a smaller or larger version of essentially the same concept. They have their own character. And the X-type (the new small Jaguar sedan) will have that same individuality, character and excitement that ensures it will always be a Jaguar. When people see it, it's instantly recognized as a Jaguar and has all the credibility.
Why sell the X-type only with all-wheel drive?
There is plenty of market research to show that it's desirable. From a technical viewpoint, we are very excited about the X-type in its totality. It is about what all-wheel drive delivers, not in its installation per se but in terms of the increased grip, handling and agility. It's about the demonstrable effect of all-wheel drive, not its installation as a component. The lead story about X-type is not that it has all-wheel drive, but that it's an agile and exciting sports sedan.
Has the X-type been delayed? Is that why it wasn't shown at the Birmingham, England, motor show?
No, that was a myth. We always planned to show it at Geneva. But after the S-type was shown at Birmingham [in 1998], some people incorrectly assumed we would show the X-type there as well.
The X-type is one of 14 new or redesigned Jaguar products to come over the next three years. That includes 'R' editions, correct?
Yes, that counts 'R' versions, but paint and trim packages do not count as part of that 14. We're talking about new or substantially changed products that go beyond the XJ, XK, S-type and X-type.
What about a sport wagon, such as the Volvo V70 Cross Country?
That is not an area we are looking into at the moment. We know who we are, and so many companies are forgetting who they are. We are about beautiful high-performance cars. And in the past, we didn't have the money to do what we needed to do. The X-type is the cornerstone of our rebuilding phase.
It's fair to say that we are reinvigorating the performance spirit within the Jaguar marque that for many years was relatively diffused. From 1975-1995 we sold the XJ and XJS with an emphasis on prestige and elegance. We need to re-establish our performance roots and heritage with a return to the racetracks. We need to have high-performance 'R' derivatives of all our models, with the options and accessories to exploit the full potential our cars have.
How does this all mesh with the strategies of the Ford Premier Automotive Group?
It is essential to retain brand integrity. We have to draw a line in the sand. We can have common componentry and systems where it makes sense, but we need to have unique customer interfaces. We want to give each other the space to develop our own brands individually. We are having quarterly meetings to determine who's on first.
Does this increased product count and sales target mean that you need more dealers?
I see a limited expansion of our dealers. At present we have 140 dealers in the USA, and I expect that to grow to about 165 over the next three years. Some of that will be growth within the existing metro markets that can substantiate more dealers, but some of it will be new points in areas where Jaguar has not been represented.