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Automotive Globalization - Over There

Global Warning

Kevin Hackett
Jan 31, 2009 SHARE
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Not that long ago I was on holiday with my family on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was the stereotypical paradise with white coral sand, an azure sea and palm trees emerging from warm water that lapped the beach outside our room. If there was anywhere on earth I should've been safe from the effects of globalization it was here. But no...

On another island there was a factory, a small plant where Coca-Cola was manufactured using desalinated seawater. There was no discernable difference between this stuff and "the real thing" you probably buy by the gallon, but I didn't want it here. I wanted cocktails served in hollowed-out coconuts-an ice-cold Indian beer, even. But I didn't want to see Coca-Cola's trademark script in this place.

Even if you personally might fancy a glass of Coke in paradise, when it infiltrates the motor industry globalization can cause big problems. And often you don't even notice it until it starts to subside, as has happened in recent times in Europe.

When Ford was doing well for itself, it decided to snap up a few luxury car companies. Jaguar, Volvo, Land Rover, Aston Martin-they became the key players in Ford's "Premier Automotive Group" (PAG) portfolio. And under Ford's custodianship the ailing manufacturers started to do pretty well, with decent investment and the opportunity to take advantage of Ford's purchasing clout as well as its huge R&D resources.

But while Ford was good enough to prolong the lives of manufacturers we Brits have come to deeply love over the decades, the suits in Detroit were, in fact, stifling creativity and diluting these precious brands. And after a few days driving Jaguar's latest sports car offering, the strictly limited edition XKR-S, it's obvious to me what was going on.

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For the XKR, brilliant though it is, is still a bit soft. It's properly quick, up to 155 mph when its electronic nanny cuts in. It's beautiful to look at. It has a delicious V8 rumble and it's a bargain too. But it feels as though the development team was hampered by the hand of Ford. There was one company within the PAG fold that Ford couldn't tolerate Jaguar taking on as a competitor: Aston Martin.

The Jag already looked like an Aston, thanks to the guiding hand of Ian Callum. But it couldn't be permitted to be as exciting to drive as an Aston. See how this globalization thing stifles development and creativity? The XKR platform is capable of delivering so much more, and now that Ford has waved goodbye to both Jaguar and Aston Martin, the gloves are slowly coming off.

The XKR-S is the first sign of what's to come. Available only in Europe, it's an XKR with attitude. It's still a comfortable GT car-in fact, you could probably drive over your next-door neighbors and their dogs without noticing a thing. But when the going gets rapid, it displays a character that's totally at odds with its over-refined stablemate.

Its active suspension stiffens, its engine note turns gruffer, it guns itself to the nearest horizon and doesn't stop until it's doing (a still limited) 174 mph. Let your 10-year-old nephew loose on it with a laptop and you could probably see nearer 190. In fact, it's so good, so focused, that it almost topples Aston's DBS as the most replete GT made in Britain today. If its cabin architecture was sexier, its engine note louder and its gear shifter less old-mannish, well, it'd be a true great.

Ford would never have allowed this to happen, but under Indian company Tata's ownership, Jaguar is free to do what it's needed to do for decades: build a 21st century E-Type, a proper sports car that makes you feel truly alive behind the wheel. With chassis guru Mike Cross in charge of the underpinnings, the potential for Jaguar to make a world beater is very real.

There's even talk of Aston Martin and Jaguar competing at Le Mans in the near future. These once bitter rivals will take a renewed fight to the world's most famous endurance race and there'll be an air of excitement over here that's been missing for eons. Bring it on.

But while Ford has liberated the prestige brands from its clutches, Porsche is about to ride all over the VW Group, which worries me. I mean, if Ford couldn't cope with Jaguar squaring up to Aston Martin, how will Porsche deal with Audi's R8 showing the 911 to be past its sell-by date? And what about Lamborghini? The British car industry is about to go through some monumentally exciting times. Let's hope Porsche doesn't pull a Ford and stop the party in the rest of Europe.

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By Kevin Hackett
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