Officials at Jaguar are the first to admit their firm has spent too long outside the elite group of European manufacturers dominating the burgeoning market for diesel-powered premium transport.
But all that is set to change inside the next 12 months, as the famous British luxury car brand unleashes the Big Cat on a two-pronged drive into an arena that now accounts for up to 60% of prestige car sales across most of Europe – and claims a staggering 75% share in France and in Belgium.
Jaguar's chairman and chief executive officer, Bob Dover, said. 'We're last in the marketplace with diesel, and if you come late to the party, you have to make sure to be the best-dressed. I'm very conscious of the fact that we have to be good. Let's put it this way – if I'm wrong, I'm betting my career on it.'
Dover spoke as the company prepared to launch oil-burning versions of its X-type range and unveiled the 2.7-litre compression-ignition V6 engine that will go under the bonnets of S-type models in summer 2004. He acknowledged the lack of diesel had resulted in lost business.
'But you can't do everything at once. Our compound annual growth rate has been running at more than 20% over the past five years and we've had our product development people focusing on getting the S-type and X-type into the market.
'Now we have got our cars right, we can start on other things. We can't continue to exclude ourselves from such an important market area as diesel, so part of our activity is focusing on people who are buying into it. But it's not a question of offering a diesel car, it is more about offering a product that meets the customer's vision of what a Jaguar will be with a diesel engine.'
Dover was less specific when asked about his sales expectations for the new versions: 'It's difficult to estimate. Diesel takes 55% in the S-type segment in Europe and it is growing quite quickly.
'How much will be incremental is not clear, but if we produce a great car, some of the sales will be incremental. The same rationale applies with the X-type segment, which is growing despite a fairly flat economy.
'I'm personally a big fan of diesel, because advances in refinement mean there is no longer any compromise. The best all-rounder is probably the BMW 3-series, and if we're not as good as that, we should give up. We have tried our product against the BMW, the Audi and the small Mercedes-Benz and it does stack up.'
However, Dover said it would be 'several years' before the engine was available right across the Jaguar range. He added: 'We have to get the base product right, we want to do a small sports car and different variants of our current saloon – so we have to prioritise.'
S-type the trailblazer for Ford-PSA V6 engine
Significant advances will allow Jaguar to claim the technological high ground when its nameplate becomes the first to go on a new high-performance V6 common rail diesel engine next year.
But by 2005, fresh executive cars from Peugeot and Citroen will also be using the powertrain that has been developed as part of one of the motor industry's most significant joint projects in recent times.
Initial volume of the Dagenham-built engine – the most sophisticated yet in the far-reaching co-operation ventures on power units between Ford and the French PSA group – has been set at 150,000 units.
However, Ford may well need to use the additional capacity available if the V6, designed from a clean sheet at a cost of £250 million, were to eventually find its way into vehicles produced by other members of the US company's Premier Automotive Group such as Land Rover and Volvo.
Claimed to be the lightest motor of its type, the flagship V6 is the first to make use of compacted graphite iron. Its cylinder block is cast from the new material, which is lighter and stronger than grey steel – and so hard that only recent developments in machining have allowed mass production.
Bolted to it is a separate aluminium ladder frame for additional stiffness, and a comparatively low compression ratio helps improve emissions quality and provide quieter combustion.
Ford Motor president and chief operating officer Sir Nick Scheele and PSA Peugeot Citroen chief executive Jean-Martin Folz rate the unit as a new benchmark in technical excellence.
Scheele said: 'Our alliance has made us world leaders in diesel engine manufacture and given us industry-leading economies of scale. We have worked with our partners to deliver high standards of power and refinement and we have already produced a range of world-class 1.4, 1.6 and 2.0-litre engines in the volume vehicle segments.
This new unit takes the partnership into the premium diesel market for the first time and shows tangible benefits of leading edge technology.'
According to Folz, a total of 650 engineers and technicians are now working on joint projects at the companies' development centres in France, Germany and Britain.
He said: 'We have a number of engine research projects underway, with 200 people working in such areas as combustion, architecture, simulation and optical diagnostics.
'Pooling our resources helps us move faster and respond quicker to market changes. The percentage of diesel-powered cars in Europe has more than doubled since 1993 to more than 40% and diesel could soon power every other car sold in the region.
'Our co-operative venture has now expanded to such a point that it is probably unrivalled anywhere else in the world. Together, we have invested £1.4 billion to eventually produce more than 10,000 engines a day, both in the UK and France, and by 2006, they will power 50 different models.'
Jaguar diesel fact file
Bore & Stroke: 81.0 x 88.0mm
Max power: 197bhp or 204bhp, depending on application
Max torque: Up to 325lb-ft, depending on application
Valve train: DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Induction: Twin turbochargers with air-to-air intercooler
Fuel system: Common rail, 1,650 bar pressure
Emissions: EU IV capable, with diesel particulate filter