'Ford's Brit Packer'

A Q&A with Mike O’Driscoll, president of Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin in North America, on new models, marketing and the challenges of running British marques in the U.S.

There’s an adage about giving a busy person something more to do because they will do it and do it well. Mike O’Driscoll, president of Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin in North America – known internally as the Brit Pack – is living proof this statement is not a cliché. Far from it.

O’Driscoll, a Brit, joined Jaguar in the U.K. after graduating with an MBA from the University of Warwick in 1975. He joined Jaguar Rover Triumph in 1975 as a business student and held various positions in Finance, Product Development and Marketing prior to his appointment as Marketing and Product Planning manager for Jaguar Cars North America in 1987.

In 1992, he was appointed General Sales manager for the United States, a position he held until 1995, when he transferred to the Ford division. In 2000, O’Driscoll was made president of Jaguar, and the following year was promoted to president of Land Rover and Aston Martin as well.

As president, he is responsible for the marketing, sales and service of the three unique marques (that’s Brit-speak for brands) in the United States, Canada and Mexico. All three brands have a long and storied history, but the past five years have been a period of mixed marketing efforts and varying sales results as this chart details:

Five Year Sales of Brit Pack Cars: Aston Martin, Jaguar & Land Rover

Brand    2005    2004    2003    2002    2001
AstonMartin    492    600    519    487    302
Jaguar    30,424    45,875    54,655    61,204    44,532
LandRover    46,175    35,506    39,035    40,987    27,204
Totals    77,091    81,981    94,209    102,678    72,038

Source: AutoData Corp.

This year, however, there has been a big change – the beginning of a turnaround – as Land Rover gained significant sales momentum, surpassing Jaguar as the top brand in the Brit Pack with a double digit growth (35% from 2004 to 2005). This growth has continued in 2006; results through May for Land Rover showed a 32% increase to 19,016 this year from 14,457 in 2005. For the month of May sales were up 39%.

Even with outstanding results in the annual J.D. Power and Associates Sales Satisfaction Index Study, first place for the second consecutive year, and a second place in the company’s Initial Quality Study, the Jaguar brand has experienced a precipitous decline in sales, off as much as 50%.

Aston Martin’s sales, while small in number, like Jaguar’s have been on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.

To stem the tide, within recent months both Jaguar and Land Rover have launched new vehicles, begun new advertising campaigns, and introduced other marketing initiatives to reverse the volatile nature of these businesses.

My conversation with Mike at the recent New York International Auto Show did not focus on the obvious, the loss and volatility of sales. Rather, I queried him about the programs and initiatives that were underway at Land Rover and Jaguar to reverse the slides.

MB: As a tennis fan, I was interested to learn of Land Rover’s retaining Maria Sharapova as a spokesperson for Land Rover.

MO’D: She’s really a terrific tennis player (won Wimbledon in 2004), but what made it work for us was that Maria’s a real fan of Land Rover, really passionate about the brand. We got to know each other about 18 months ago during an event. She went straight off for a drive in an LR 3 when we launched it … and loved it. Our multi-year relationship includes her use of Land Rover vehicles, and her participation in retail promotions and events.

MB: If I’m not mistaken, I believe Land Rover is the only automotive brand to have a young woman (Maria is 18) as an endorser/spokesperson.

MO’D: We’ve been trying to put this deal together since then, and finally managed to do it. So, we’re delighted to have the champion with us.

MB: Is tennis going to become a major event focus for Land Rover … and what do you expect to gain from the Sharapova endorsement?

MO’D: There are no plans on any major tennis sponsorships, but we do believe Maria will be part of helping us reach a younger audience – especially with a new sport utility we’re going to launch a little later this year at the London Auto Show. It’s a slightly smaller SUV, we’re – not surprisingly – calling it LR2, and it will provide Land Rover access to a whole lot of new customers … maybe some younger customers too … and that’s where Maria will be used.

MB: What advertising and promotional activities and events will be undertaken for the new LR2 with her?

MO’D: No immediate plans for ads in the works now, but you will see many in the future beginning early next year for the LR2. We think Maria Sharapova has a great future and the partnership of Land Rover with Maria looks great too. She’s a great spokesperson.

MB: Do you have any other sports endorsements?

MO’D: Yes, Maria joins another great sport personality, Greg Norman (a golfing great from Australia known as the Shark). We’ve been working with Greg for about a year. We believe these two great sports celebrities define the spirit of adventure, and that’s what Land Rover is all about.

MB: Early last year, the Jaguar brand undertook an extensive search for a new advertising agency and last fall introduced the new campaign. Is the new campaign effective? (Ad industry critics have given the campaign mixed reviews)?

MO’D: Our new campaign is working tremendously well. The positioning of the new campaign – initially as gorgeous – is a new fashion statement of how luxury is interpreted. And that’s how I think most people have seen it today. It began as a brand campaign, but soon you will see the campaign evolve.

MB: When will the new iterations, extensions begin and for what vehicle?

MO’D: We’re now in the process of launching the new XK sports car now, which is really exciting for us. Whenever a sports car is launched at Jaguar, it is a momentous occasion. Sports cars are part of our corporate heritage. The ads will break soon.

MB: The car looks great. What have been the early reactions from the media, dealers and customers?

MO’D: This is a terrific, very accomplished car. Reaction from the media has been terrific. We just started shipping cars to our dealers over the past few days … they’re really excited. Orders for the new car are starting to build into real momentum. My biggest problem, I have to say, is building enough. We’re trying to increase the production rate as best we can, but we will be short of the car for at least the next 18 months.

MB: That can be good, can’t it?

MO’D: Yes, because it builds the cache and desire for the car. It’s a great problem to have, and that’s not always bad.

MB: Tell me something about the new XK?

MO’D: The XK has a stiffer, stronger chassis made up of all aluminum; we’re using a wonderfully refined engine, marvelous transmission, F1 style paddle shift on the steering column – it’s responsive with seamless gear changes. The car’s electrifying to drive! Sounds absolutely wonderful at full throttle and we think our owners will love it.

MB: How many Jaguar dealers in the US?

MO’D: There are about 180 Jaguar dealers in the United States. It’s a slight increase from a few years ago; we had 120 dealers back ten years. We are now represented in some of the smaller markets where we were not previously sold. A number of our Jaguar dealers also carry Land Rover and a number of our Land Rover dealers have added Jaguar. Half of our Land Rover and Jaguar dealers represent both brands – many times at the same location, but with very dedicated and exclusive facilities for both.

MB: A few years ago, all Land Rover dealers had to have a test track as part of their product presentation. Is this still in effect?

MO’D: Yes, all Land Rover stores have a test track; it’s a vital part of the LR facilities because Land Rovers are defined by their breadth of capabilities – the finest four wheel drive vehicles in the world. We want all LR owners to understand and appreciate what the vehicle is capable of. And the test track is a quick way of insuring all prospective buyers can quickly tell the difference between a Land Rover and any other four-wheel drive vehicle they may have driven.

MB: It adds value to the sales presentation?

MO’D: It enables them to see a little of the breadth of capabilities the vehicle has but, of course, there’s no way to really explore all the capabilities without buying the vehicle and taking it off-road. The test track provides a flavor of how wonderful it is to be a Land Rover owner.

MB: Sales for Land Rover seem to be improving…

MO’D: Land Rover sales last year were up close to 35% and we will see a similar increase this year.

MB: Where have the sales come from?

MO’D: Range Rover Sport has been a wonderful addition to the lineup, winning a whole lot of new fans. Range Rover has gone from strength to strength since we introduced it a few years ago; and, of course, the LR3 is a wonderful sport utility, with room for seven it’s the most spacious SUV on the market. Whatever you’re looking for in an SUV, we’ve got in the world of Land Rover.

MB: In addition to the new XK what other new Jaguar product is coming soon?

MO’D: We’ve got a really exciting new product on the Jaguar side. Starting now with the XK, before the end of this year we plan the XKR – the supercharger version of the XK. You’ll see some changes to our other car lines too.

MB: Both the XJ and the XK have bodies of aluminum. Will use of this metal continue?

MO’D: Yes, we plan on continuing the use of aluminum on the XJ and XK lines. It’s a way of insuring we can build cars that are not only spacious – cars of not only good size – but, very importantly, cars that are light, and both critically strong and very safe.

MB: What are some of the attributes or characteristics of aluminum bodies?

MO’D: These aluminum body cars are lighter than their predecessors – much lighter than competitive vehicles – yet much stronger and stiffer. A stiffer chassis translates into ride and refinement qualities that are really first class. And we think, delivers a level of comfort and noise suppression that’s absolutely wonderful, a great driving experience.

MB: Where do you envision your various brands’ sales growth coming from? Repeat customers? Conquest sales?

MO’D: We’re seeing a lot of new customers across all three marques. Certainly, Aston Martin is winning a lot of new fans and first-time owners. The new Jaguar XK will win with its style and panache. And, at Land Rover we have really broadened the appeal of the brand. For many years, Land Rover had a very loyal following, but a very small following. With a stronger, broader lineup and a terrific media response, more and more customers are experiencing Land Rover for the first time.

MB: This is an obvious question, but have Ford’s financial problems impacted your plans or relationships with dealers?

MO’D: Ford has been wonderful owners and custodians of the three British luxury marks – Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin. Our product plans are strong and robust. Ford has been very supportive of all of the three brands and we believe we’ve got a great future ahead. We’re just starting to win over new buyers and fans and all three can grow to even greater heights.

MB: And finally, what was your first car?

MO’D: A Ford Escort.

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