Crouching Jaguar ready to leap

Last year India's appetite for luxury cars remained unfazed in the face of one of the worst slowdowns in the country. Affluent buyers lapped up almost every new product, some of which were well over Rs 1 crore, launched by luxury car manufacturers.

Companies such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, who collectively control around 70-75 per cent of the luxury car market, posted record sales during the year. Audi sales grew 11 per cent, while Mercedes-Benz sales grew by 32 per cent last year.

With an understated presence so far, their peer, British manufacturer, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), posted one of the fastest growth during the same period. It has recently launched a TV ad featuring actor Kareena Kapoor and the Jaguar XJ.

KAREENA IN THE JAG Kareena Kapoor in the Jaguar XJ ad. She has been signed on for one ad for now, no endorsements have been confirmed Kapoor usually charges close to Rs 5-6 crore per endorsement, for includes four-five days of ad-shoots and events in a year. For an ad, experts say, she would have charged around Rs 25 lakh
The collective sales of the 10 models of JLR increased by 22 per cent last year calendar to 2,913 units. The top-selling under the Jaguar marque were the Rs 92-lakh XJ and the XF luxury saloon, while the Freelander 2 remained the bestseller under the Land Rover badge.

Rohit Suri, Vice President, Jaguar Land Rover - India, said, "In the past four years, Jaguar and Land Rover have gained significant prominence, acceptance and popularity in India. As a market, India has been growing rapidly and we consider it as a strong growth region in the coming years. With the introduction of further products, derivatives and engines, we are confident that our growth will continue in the premium segment in India."

All the three models are assembled in India, and don't invite high import duties unlike other JLR models. The company is working to ensure the production unit at Chakan, Maharashtra, the only facility outside the UK, only gets busier.

However, its not just the super premium segment that JLR is interested in. India's largest auto manufacturer, Tata Motors, which owns the two brands, is keen on the volume segment and pitting Jaguar against the current bestsellers Mercedes C Class, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.

The affordable luxury segment, which denotes the segment below Rs 25 lakh, has drawn buyers who would have earlier picked a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Teana or Skoda Superb but opt for compact hatchbacks and SUVs (sports utility vehicles) bearing a luxury badge.

Boris Fritz, vice-president, sales and network development, Mercedes-Benz India, says, "The A and B Class form 20 per cent of our sales. Young professionals, doctors, businessmen are buying cars form this range. The two models have attracted several women buyers as well".

To beat the German heavyweights Jaguar is shoring up its mainstream brand recall. Roping in Kareena Kapoor to advertise the XJ is its most recent move. "Our flagship, Jaguar XJ is the epitome of elegant British style, luxury, design and sophistication. Associating with a leading Bollywood actor like Kareena Kapoor reiterates these attributes", says Suri.

But experts believe the preparations are to pave the way for the Baby Jag. Being readied for launch in the later part of this year, the Baby Jag is expected to carry a price- of around Rs 40 lakh, though company executives decline to confirm details.

Sporting a compact four-cylinder, two-litre engine, this new sedan will be the smallest five-seater luxury saloon under Jaguar. It will also be more affordable than the current entry model, XF, priced at Rs 48.56 lakh. "In recent times, rising income levels and aspirations have led to a rapid growth in this segment (affordable luxury). The Indian premium consumer landscape is evolving, redefining the consumer profiles and preferences," says Suri.

Also in the works is a small Land Rover SUV that will be positioned below the Freelander 2, priced at nearly Rs 40 lakh. It would rival the current bestseller Audi Q3 and the yet-to-be-launched Mercedes-Benz GLA.

Like its rivals, JLR is eyeing Tier II cities for expansion. With the recent opening of an outlet in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, it would have 21 outlets in 19 cities, still far less than Mercedes-Benz which has 64 outlets, while Audi has 34 dealers.

"The JLR brand is strong internationally. The luxury car market though very small, is growing rapidly. With a sound product pipeline, JLR will be very aggressive in the near future", says an auto expert.

The size of the luxury and super luxury segment is around 35,000-40,000 units per year, up from 25,000-30,000 units three years ago. Audi (10,002 units) remains the largest seller of luxury cars, followed closely by Mercedes-Benz (9,003 units) and BMW (7,327 units). All the three have promised to launch compact cars in the next one year.