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Jaguar's cheapest sedan targets volume push

Jaguar is introducing a new entry-level sedan, challenging BMW's most popular model, as part of a push by the upscale British brand to triple sales by building vehicles more people can afford.

The XE sedan will be Jaguar's cheapest vehicle at 27,000 pounds ($44,000 or around Rs 27 lakh) when it goes on sale next year to rival the likes of the BMW 3-Series. The car is a critical test of Jaguar's ability to compete in the biggest part of the luxury-car market after halting production of the similarly positioned X-Type last decade because of disappointing sales.

The car "represents a bet-the-house gamble," says Max Warburton, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein. "The XE launches into what is arguably the most competitive premium segment of all," and rivals including the 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class have "far greater scale advantages." THE SMALL BIG CAT INDIA LAUNCH After its US launch in 2015, the Jaguar XE would be launched in India, China and other emerging markets SPECS Termed as the defining sports sedan for Jaguar, extends the new-gen design style first seen in the XF in 2008 The petrol V6 can propel the XE to top-speed of 155mph, with 0-60mph acceleration of 4.9 sec All-aluminium, four-door, rear-drive sedan, slightly bigger than a BMW 3-series The car can become a wi-fi hotspot, via a roof antenna, allowing up to eight devices to be connected at once. Apps are available to promote conference calls, parking, traffic information etc.

The mid-sized model is part of a record spending spree by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), the luxury-car maker owned by Mumbai-based Tata Motors. The Whitley, England-based company is investing 3.5 billion pounds in the year to broaden its lineup.

Fiat's Maserati is encroaching on Jaguar's turf with the $66,900 Maserati Ghibli, and Volkswagen's British ultra-luxury brand Bentley will challenge Land Rover when it rolls out its first SUV in 2016.

"The XE is unbelievably important," Ralf Speth, JLR's chief executive officer, says. With its more affordable price tag, "we'll have an opportunity to bring younger customers, to bring female customers into the range of Jaguar."

The XE will be the first model to be built on Jaguar's new lightweight aluminum frame developed to improve performance as the brand seeks to revive the sporty image of its heyday in the 1960s, when movie stars like Steve McQueen and Brigitte Bardot favoured the E-Type sports car. The new Jaguar, powered by a four-cylinder gasoline or diesel engine, will be priced at par with the BMW 3-Series, which costs between 23,550-45,515 pounds (UK).

iPad generation
With the XE, "they're really making an exciting sports saloon, as Jaguar used to," Graham Searle, general manager of the Jaguar Enthusiasts' Club, says. Unlike the older clientele of its pricier models, the new sedan is "aimed at the iPad generation."

Jaguar's effort to bolster the XE's appeal includes the ability to control doors, temperature and even start the engine remotely via a mobile device. The infotainment system features an eight-inch touchscreen and allows connection to the driver's smartphone apps, even using voice control.

XE sales are forecast to peak at 63,700 cars in 2016, which approaches the brand's 2013 global deliveries of 74,500, according to market-research company IHS Automotive. Flanked by other new Jaguars, sales are set to rise to about 230,000 cars by 2018. Still, that pales in comparison with the 2 million cars that BMW expects to sell this year. Speth concedes that the XE's profitability might lag margins of equivalent models of the three German luxury carmakers because it is "clear that we don't have the economies of scale."

Jaguar is hoping its sporty heritage, which has been shored up by the 51,250-pound F-Type sports car, helps it woo buyers away from BMW, Audi and Mercedes. For Jaguar, the XE is more about joining, rather than beating, the competition. "There's space enough, room enough in this segment for everybody to make a business," says Speth.