Born in Coventry, England, quite near the Jaguar factory, in fact, Mike O’Driscoll joined Jaguar Rover Triumph in 1975 as a business student and held various positions in finance, product development and marketing. He held positions at both Ford and Lincoln-Mercury before moving to the U.S. as president of Jaguar North America, where he was responsible for the marketing, sales and service of Jaguar automobiles in the United States, Canada and Mexico. We spent some time with him at the L.A. auto show to see how Jaguar is doing under new ownership.
ET: Could you tell our readers your pathway to the automotive industry and to Jaguar specifically?
Mike O’Driscoll: I started with Jaguar when I was very young, back in 1975. I went through college and spent the first 10 years or so in the U.K. with Jaguar in finance, product development, and marketing. I moved across to the states just at the time of the stock market collapse 1987. The more things change the more they stay the same. Well, I stayed in the states for 20 years, just over 20 years, eventually running Aston Martin, Jaguar /Land Rover North America. And went back to the U.K. maybe 18 months ago now as Managing Director.
ET: You hinted at the current economic crisis a bit. You’re sitting here with new ownership with very deep pockets (India’s Tata Group). What’s the outlook for Jaguar at this point?
Mike O’Driscoll: I think the outlook for us is terrific. We’re remaking Jaguar into the luxury upscale brand it always was and, of course, should be. We started the work about three years ago with the XK, really gathered pace though earlier this year with the launch of the XF. That car’s been a tremendous success, it’s the cornerstone of our rebuilding efforts simply because it sells into the largest segment within the luxury market, the mid-sized segment. It’s a terrific car not only in terms of its design aesthetics which, of course, are so important to Jaguar, but in terms of its dynamics. Its steering, its handling, its braking, its performance are just absolutely superb. And the reaction we’ve had from the media, from our dealers and most importantly from the people who drive our cars has just been terrific. We have a lot more work to do as we continue on this journey over the next two to three years remaking Jaguar. But we’re back to making beautiful, fast cars.
ET: You’ve remade the entire line except for the XJ sedan, the flagship. Can you give us any hints about what to expect for a new XJ?
Mike O’Driscoll: Well the XJ is our current major project. And we’re working hard. Details at this stage are very limited, of course, but what I will say is that we will continue to use an aluminum platform, which is super light weight and super strong. And it allows us to build a car that’s very advanced technologically, has great balance, great strength and real rigidity, which is vital for a handling as well as safety. It’s actually stronger than a steel body yet 40 percent lighter. That coupled with some exciting advances in engine design gives us a great basis for a new XJ.
ET: Are these new generation Jaguars attracting a new customer, too?
Mike O’Driscoll: Jaguar’s always appealed to people who are independently minded, people who really do think for themselves. Our customers buy a car that will stand out and a car that in many ways stands apart from the rest of the industry. So many cars these days look alike. Jaguar’s always been distinctive: sensuous, elegant. They always look as thought they’re moving when they’re standing still. There’s so much drama that’s essential to a Jaguar. And although times change, we’re still attracting people who are independently minded, successful and who want a car that communicates those qualities.
ET: As a world traveler, where do you like to go on vacation?
Mike O’Driscoll: I can’t recall a lot of downtime in the last couple of years. Remaking Jaguar’s a full time job. But, if given the time my favorite place without a shadow of a doubt would be the British Virgin Islands. I love to sail, and when I can get the opportunity that’s a great way of spending the time.
ET: If you hadn’t ended up working for Jaguar where would you see yourself?
Mike O’Driscoll: I’ve always been attracted to the creativity of architecture. I guess I found a different way of expressing my creativity and that was working with a brand and with a company that is so design driven. And that’s why it’s so much fun.