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Jaguar Takes the Wraps Off the X-Type, Its $30,000 Make-or-Break Machine

March 07, 2001|TERRIL YUE JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jaguar's new X-Type, a Jag for the masses--at least those in the upper-middle class--should help the fabled British car maker double its worldwide sales in just two years, a top Ford Motor executive said.

"This is a make-or-break car," said Wolfgang Reitzle, head of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, in unveiling the 2002 $30,000 X-Type in a preview at the Geneva auto show, which runs through this weekend.

"The X-Type is a growth platform for the future," Reitzle said.

Jaguar expects to sell 85,000 cars this year. Ford's Premier Group, which includes Jaguar, Aston Martin, Volvo, Land Rover and Lincoln brands, "can start thinking about new variants" for some of those marques if the X-Type is a hit with consumers, Reitzle said.

The X-Type is scheduled for introduction in late spring in Europe and late summer in the United States.

Mercedes-Benz and BMW also are planning all-new cars for the American market in coming years. In separate presentations at the Geneva show preview, both German auto makers gave details of compact cars for the U.S., aimed at younger consumers.

Mercedes will import to the U.S. for the first time the redesigned version of its small A-class. BMW said it will begin selling a new 1-Series compact in 2004.

Also unveiled in Switzerland for the Geneva show and likely to come to America: the Suzuki Liana, a five-door compact minivan-like vehicle known in Japan as the Aerio. The Liana, based on the Suzuki Esteem, will come in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations.

Ford also used the Geneva show to take the wraps off Aston Martin's new super sports car, the supercharged V-12 Vanquish. Able to rocket down the road at 200 miles an hour, it also has a supercharged price: $228,000 when it goes on sale in the U.S. this fall.

As for Jaguar's X-Type, Reitzle said he expects it to take seven or eight years to build a new customer base for the vehicle, which some skeptics criticize for being too close to the Ford Mondeo mid-sized family sedan on which it is based.

The recently redesigned Mondeo was the European cousin of the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique, which Ford discontinued after lackluster U.S. sales.

The X-Type will be a four-door sedan with all-wheel drive and a 2.5-liter V-6 gasoline engine. It will compete with the Mercedes C-class, Audi A4, Lexus IS 200 and 300, and BMW 3-series.

"The successful launch of Jaguar's X-Type is the critical event for [Ford's Premier Group] in 2001," said John Casesa, Merrill Lynch's senior auto industry analyst in New York. "A bad launch would hurt the X-Type's reputation and hurt the other Jaguar lines as well."

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Terril Yue Jones is The Times' Detroit bureau chief. He can be reached at t.jones@latimes.com.

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