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US:Ford puts luxury cars on new path

Ford puts luxury cars on new path

Aston Martin offers roomier coupe, Volvo woos young buyers and Jaguar focuses on elite.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co.'s Premier Automotive Group debuted two concept vehicles and a production convertible at the Detroit auto show Monday, elegant vehicles that point to a new strategic direction for three of the group's upscale brands.

Aston Martin unveiled the Rapide concept, a high-performance four-door coupe that marks the marque's return to a roomier design that sacrifices nothing in performance.

"Aston Martin has finally fleshed out its lineup," said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific Inc. He said the addition of a four-door model will give the brand room to grow.

Volvo showed off its C30 concept, which marks the Swedish brand's entry into the small car segment. While officially a concept, the C30 is expected to be very close to the production model Volvo plans to unveil in Paris in September. Production is slated to begin by the end of the year.

Volvo CEO Fredrik Arp said the C30 will take Volvo into a whole new segment of the market.

"We need to bring in and we want to bring in younger Volvo buyers," he said.

Jaguar was the only PAG brand to introduce a new production model, the XK convertible. But Jaguar is also the only one to report a loss for 2005. Ford recently invested $2.1 billion in the brand -- nearly as much as it paid for the bespoke British carmaker in 1989.

Ford executives said Jaguar's recovery is in sight, albeit as a smaller niche brand.

"Our expectations for Jaguar have been modified," said Jim Padilla, Ford's president and chief operating officer. "What we want to do is have a credible brand with great products -- not discount products. That's not what Jaguar is about. It's not an everyman product."

"That's exactly the right way for them to go," Peterson said. "Jaguar has always been a brand that's known for exclusivity and a little snobbiness -- and that's just fine."

Padilla acknowledged that Ford tried to grow Jaguar too fast by introducing watered-down models like the failed X Type.

"Smaller, for Jaguar, is better," said Jim Sanfilippo, senior analyst with AMCI Inc. "(But) they have to create a new cost structure to make that viable."

Bibiana Boerio, Jaguar's managing director, said the brand aims to do just that.

"We're focusing on higher-profit models," she said. "That's our vision for the future: designing and manufacturing beautiful, fast cars."

Sanfilippo said Ford bought more than a car company when it acquired Jaguar: It bought a legend.

"Nobody who loves cars wants anything but good to happen to Jaguar," Sanfilippo said. "What I want from the management at Ford is to show the reverence and passion that Jaguar deserves."

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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