Jaguar Land Rover finally has a model to compete with convertible versions of German premium coupes. But it doesn't come from the sporty Jaguar brand. Instead it's a Land Rover SUV.
The British automaker believes its Range Rover Evoque convertible will attract BMW 4-series and Audi A5 customers.
With its high-riding body, the Evoque convertible might not look like an obvious rival to sportier-looking German cabrios, which also include the Mercedes E-class cabriolet. However Land Rover's theory is that many customers in this premium segment are not too worried about outright performance. Instead they want a car with premium feel, four-seat practicality and the right 'wow' factor on the road.
Jaguar isn't in a position to offer this. It hasn't yet indicated it will produce a coupe or convertible version of the new XE midsize sedan.
JLR says it has benchmarked the Evoque convertible’s prices (starting at 47,500 pounds in the UK) using the equivalent specifications and engine from its German rivals
The convertible niche is doing well. Sales of premium convertibles rose 4 percent to 85,189 in Europe last year, with the BMW 4 series the most popular with 14,472 sold, up 2.9 percent, according to figures from JATO Dynamics.
Land Rover believes it can sell 10,000 of Evoque convertibles globally. Of that around 6,000 will be sold in Europe, analyst IHS Automotive predicts, giving the model a similar volume to the Mercedes E-class convertible and Audi A5 convertible. Last year Mercedes sold 7,424 E-class convertibles in Europe, down 30 percent, while Audi sold 6,393 A5 convertibles, a drop of 17 percent.
Land Rover will benefit from the fact that its home market of the UK is Europe's second largest convertible market after Germany, with overall sales expected to be around 46,000 this year compared with 68,000 in Germany, according to IHS.
The UK market was a lot bigger in the past. Cabriolet sales have slumped from 116,827 in 2004, according to figures from industry association the SMMT. However the association told me that the slump was in part because buyers are switching to SUVs.
That means rather than risking its credibility by launching in an obscure niche, Land Rover could be onto a winner with the Evoque convertible. It has taken around 1,500 advance orders ahead of the June delivery date, suggesting that stripping the roof from an SUV could be a smart decision.