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For US debut, F-Type gets unexpected chaperone

Paramus, (New Jersey), Oct. 15: Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Motors, the parent of Jaguar Land Rover, paid a visit to this realm of shopping malls and car dealerships on Wednesday evening to inaugurate Prestige Jaguar Land Rover of Paramus. The store is operated by Prestige, one of the company’s top-performing dealers.

Also on hand, making its first public appearance in the US since its unveiling two weeks ago at the Paris motor show, was the 2013 Jaguar F-Type. Among the crowd gathered to appreciate it was Plaxico Burress, the former wide receiver for the Giants and Jets, who looked to be a tight fit in the roadster, although he did not try its driver’s seat.

Playing off Jaguar’s marketing message of recapturing its sporting heritage with the F-Type, a vintage E-Type was displayed nearby.

In an interview here on Wednesday, Tata described the F-Type as the keystone of the Jaguar brand. With a degree in architecture from Cornell, Tata said he took a proactive role in overseeing the design efforts of the two premium brands, communicating frequently with Ian Callum, the head of design for Jaguar, and Gerry McGovern, who heads design at Land Rover.

Accompanied by Andy Goss, president of Jaguar Land Rover North America, Tata called the F-Type “a Jekyll and Hyde car.”

“We wanted a car that the housewife could drive down to the supermarket and if you were a serious driver you could do what you wanted on hilly roads or a track — a car that really had performance, not a sissy car but a truly macho car,” he said.

“You should be able to look at it and imagine a big number on the door or nice and shiny in the supermarket parking lot.”

The two marques are prospering, but the F-Type, even if it sells well, is not expected to increase profits greatly. Jaguar lacks a volume-oriented luxury product to compete with the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The brand intends to build this product, but only when it deigns a design worthy of the cat on the grille, Tata said.

“I think we recognise the importance of having an entry-level Jaguar that retains the Jaguar brand without looking like another product,” he said. “One that at the same time is smaller and more agile and more appealing to the young owner who would like to have what Jaguar makes — namely, a fast car that is attractive and is a sedan.”

He further distinguished the F-Type in the company’s history from somewhat retro-theme efforts like the S-Type sedan of the late 1990s. A design study offered by Bertone last year of a future Jaguar sedan clashed with the brand’s embrace of the new. “Jaguar designs as they stand today are not looking back,” Tata said. “I think Jaguar spent many years creating products that related to successful past products and were afraid to branch out into new territory.”

Tata said that as a child he drew cars and airplanes, a tendency he confessed to practice still during business meetings.

After he acquired Jaguar Land Rover from Ford in 2008, Tata said, working with the designers at each brand initially “took a bit of acceptance”.

“Then, as the barriers came down, there was more and more of a free involvement with each of them,” he said. Since the change of ownership, the designers have become more venturesome, he said, owing to the new corporate parent’s having brought a sense of “freedom of design expression”.

At the command of an industrial empire, of which Jaguar Land Rover was but one part, Tata also revealed that Tata Motors in India was looking to redo the Nano, the minicar that despite a wave of publicity and having staked a claim to being the least expensive new car in the world has been a commercial disappointment.

Being the cheapest turned out to be a negative selling point in Indian culture, he concluded, saying that the Nano as it exists can play better in other parts of the world. “We are looking to such areas as Malaysia or Indonesia or Africa,” he said. “We are also putting back in some of the things we took out to make the Nano the cheapest.”

Such calculations literally seemed half a world removed from the showroom on Wednesday night. The F-Type is priced from $69,875 and can range beyond $92,000.

 
 
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