Why Jaguar Land Rover’s results raise more questions than answers

You could be forgiven for thinking it was ‘game, set and match’ in the premium car sector as car makers line up this week to each announce record quarterly sales performances.

If you’re in the UK, none will have shouted louder than Jaguar Land Rover – doyen of the British car industry and brand of choice for Daniel Craig, Yasmin Le Bon and Zara Philips.

JLR, it seems, are riding on a high – combined sales rose 17 per cent for the first quarter of 2013 with 115,504 cars sold, while sales in the month of March totalled 53,772 (up 16 per cent).

Range-Rover-Sport-2014_G33Actor Daniel Craig unveiled the All-New Range Rover Sport last month with a live drive through the streets of New York.Range-Rover-Sport-2014_G33aLeft to right: Land Rover’s Design team including Phil Simmons, David Saddington and Gerry McGovern.

Land Rover delivered the single biggest month and quarter in the company’s 65-year history (up 14 per cent and 15 per cent respectively), which judging by the number of Evoques on our roads you’d assume reflected a dominant competitive performance.

But like all financial reports, you must consume them with a healthy dose of scepticism. As is the trend with an industry coming out of recession, ‘record’ sales figures need to be viewed in context.

When economies contract, as the UK did in 2008/09 and again in 2012, demand elasticity suggests there will be a post-recession ‘bounce’ back. This is normally more significant with discretionary goods than it is with necessities, nevertheless it is inevitable that consumers will seek to reward their survival (and period of enforced austerity) with a holiday, new car or wardrobe of new clothes.

JLR’s brands are particularly well placed in this regard, the aforementioned celebrity endorsements creating a visual ideal that its glitzy looking cars deliver on.

However beyond the immediate headline figures, the question JLR’s executives should be asking is “how sustainable is this growth?”

While Land Rover contributes the lion’s share of sales in the group, it is Jaguar which is growing fastest – twice as fast as Land Rover. Sales were up 28 per cent in March to 9,856 cars, with performance for the quarter up by 31 per cent to 20,210.

Despite the media attention gained by the F-Type, which has yet to go on sale, the last new model launched by Jaguar was over a year ago (the XF Sportbrake) and it’s this together with Jaguar’s all-wheel drive option that seems to have boosted the brand’s sales performance. The XF Sportbrake now accounts for 23 per cent of all UK Jaguar sales.

So what of Land Rover?

During March, sales of the Freelander climbed 45 per cent, with the new Range Rover up 43 per cent, but the Evoque looks to have (momentarily?) peaked, with sales up by just 9 per cent. The new Range Rover was delivered to its first customers at the end of January, while the Evoque has only just begun shipping to North America (delivering sales growth of 47 per cent in March), so perhaps this will rebalance the slump in Evoque volumes during the second quarter.

But while JLR’s product growth looks strong, the scorecard wobbles a bit when looked at through its geographies. Whereas BMW and Audi report their biggest gains in China and North America, both Jaguar and Land Rover cling resolutely to the UK for the mainstream of their sales.

Jaguar’s top five markets in the first quarter of 2013 are UK: 4,989 up 25%, China Region: 4,143 up 98%, North America: 3,855 up 11%, Germany: 1,273 up 54% and MENA (Middle East & North Africa) – 790 up 32%.

“Both Jaguar and Land Rover cling resolutely to the UK for the mainstream of their sales.”

While Land Rover reports a similar profile – UK: 20,714 up 17%, China: 17,584 up 11%, North America: 13,758 up 17%, Germany: 4,543 up 19% and Russia: 4,500 up 4%.

Even though Jaguar report growth during March of 91 per cent in China and 11 per cent in North America, Land Rover managed just 13 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

To put that in context, Audi’s Q5 and Q7 SUVs grew in North America by 37.3 per cent and 48.4 per cent in the same period, while the Q3 and Q5 accounted for 48 percent of the brand’s sales in Russia.

More than a third of all car sales in Russia are for small/medium SUVs and crossovers, with the same trend reflected in much of East Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia for example), so clearly Land Rover must be missing out on a whole chunk of this business.

But the glaring omission in Land Rover’s model range is an EV or Hybrid powered car. Toyota and Lexus recently announced an 82.3 per cent increase in sales of its full hybrid models during the first quarter of 2013, with these now accounting for 20 per cent of total Toyota and Lexus sales.

Land Rover, more than Jaguar, needs an answer to the continuing focus on fuel economy, emissions and the environmental impact of the cars we drive.

Of course, cutting 400kg from the latest Range Rover (and RR Sport) helps, but that only matches the opposition at Porsche, Mercedes and BMW. Once Porsche fits its E-Hybrid powertrain to the Cayenne they’ll be offering a sub-100g/km SUV, where Land Rover’s new RR Sport manages 194g/km at best.

A Hybrid Range Rover Sport is on its way in 2014, but the clock is ticking, and customers who move to its competitors in the meantime may be hard to lure back.

While Jaguar’s performance looks sustainable (with its ace card, the new F-Type yet to go on sale), Land Rover remains in need of a smaller cross-over (to compete against the Q3) and an alternative powertrain to fend off increasing environmental taxes.

JLR has committed to invest £2.75bn in product development during 2013, and while its sales growth looks strong, it will need every penny of that investment to ensure it stays that way.