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Saturday, 28 September, 2002, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
Jaguar eyes diesel engines
Perhaps the most peculiar car launch at the Paris Motor Show was Jaguar's new XJ model, the seventh generation of the executive car.
First, the company's managing director, Mike Beasley, declared his pride in launching the model, 34 years to the day after the arrival of the first Jaguar XJ.
And then the marque's chief operating officer, Bob Dover, came driving straight through a hole in the wall in a Jag that looked like a stainless steel kitchen that had been bashed and hammered into a streamlined shape and given wheels.
But, of course, there was method to the madness.
The car had not been sprayed because Jaguar wanted to show that its body was largely made up of aluminium and magnesium in an effort to make it both stiffer and lighter than its predecessors.
"Two hundred kilograms. A fifth of a metric tonne. Almost 450 of our English pounds. Two hundred and twenty bags of sugar. Two hundred kilograms is the weight saving we've achieved with this model," Mr Dover said.
"Now, that's some diet," he said, going on to praise its various attributes in the way only automotive industry executives can.
But while he described the new XJ as "the most advanced Jaguar ever", Mr Dover must have been aware of the calls of the market place.
With looks that are by and large identical to previous models, it seems clear that the XJ would need something extra to make it stand out.
And although the weight loss offers improved performance, fuel economy and emission performance, even though the car is taller, wider and longer than its predecessors, it is unlikely that weight alone will do it for the marque.
Instead, Jaguar is thinking the unthinkable.
Apparently, there are plans to quietly slip a diesel engine under the XJ's lanky bonnet.
To purists, this would be an outrage of course.
"Jaguar is not about diesel," one Jaguar official told BBC News Online, while another insisted that "there is no diesel engine in this model or in any other Jaguar".
But commercially it may well make sense.
"They really have to come up with one soon," an official at one of its competitors said.
Jaguar's response is that as yet none of their cars will be equipped with diesel engines.
Though by 2004, at the earliest, an S-class diesel will hit the market, and the XJ may well follow suit, a French official revealed to BBC News Online.
"France and Italy have been calling for a diesel for years," he said.
"But the main reason why we are doing it now is because of growing demand in the UK."
Jaguar's competitors Audi, BMW, Mercedes have enjoyed great success with their executive diesel models for years.
"When you look to the German car manufacturers now, they are fighting against each other with the biggest statement, with more horse power, and these days a diesel engine car is as powerful as a petrol car," Saab Europe's Claude Makowski told BBC News Online.
Saab cottoned on to this just in time, if not even slightly too late, to ride the wave when it launched its first executive diesel 9-5 in 2001, four years after introducing a smaller 9-3 diesel.
In France, Italy and Spain, up to 70% of all executive cars sold have diesel engines, Mr Makowski said.
Lately, the phenomenon has spread to the UK where changes to company car taxation have fuelled demand for executive diesels.
Low carbon dioxide emissions are all that matters in the UK at the moment, one British official said.
The Germans have been convinced too by technological advances which show that the quality of diesel engines has improved dramatically.
Across Europe, diesel engines have become incredibly popular, not only in executive models but in small cars as well.
So at the moment, diesel cars outsell petrol cars.
This is good news, according to Claude Satinet, chief executive of Citroen.
"They are completely good, they don't make any more noise than petrol cars, and the reaction for the driver is exactly the same," he told BBC News Online.
"It's the only solution to reduce fuel consumption in the short-term."
The greater mileage per litre achieved with a diesel car has often made its advocates hail the engines as an environmentally friendly alternative to petrol engines.
But while petrol is a major CO2 polluter, diesel is instead releasing a wide range of particles which have been blamed for causing asthma, cancer or worse.
"We say that if you don't pay attention to petrol engines, you will be poisoned, while if you don't pay attention to diesel engines you will not be able to breathe," said Saab's Mr Makowski.
A solution to diesel's problems may soon be found, however.
PSA Peugeot Citroen's chief executive, Jean-Martin Folz, on Thursday announced that it has developed a new filter which will soak up virtually all the particles normally released by diesel engines.
"It means our diesel cars are as clean as petrol cars," Mr Folz's sergeant at Citroen, Mr Satinet, said.
"We are hoping that our competitors will have the same solution in a year or so because the only way to get around the criticism of diesel cars is if they are clean."
In a meeting on Friday, executives from all the major car makers agreed to throw their weight behind the development of clean diesel technology.
"Current diesel engines are dramatically more efficient than conventional gasoline engines in terms of both fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions.
"Diesel engines also have the potential to meet stringent requirements regarding local emissions," the automotive executives said in a joint statement.
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