Interview: Jaguar’s Design Director

Interview: Jaguar’s Design Director

The automotive industry is full of corporate suits and perhaps no more so than the board members you find at the major motor shows. Many are well versed in corporate speak and groomed to give away as little as possible to the media. Finding those who are more relaxed and really want to share their vision and passion is not always so easy, but there are a few that I could chat to for hours and, in some cases, have.

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One of those is the design director of Jaguar, Ian Callum. I catch up with him every couple of years and he is not only one of the friendliest chaps you could ever meet, but one of the most willing to share his passion for the industry in which he works. I caught up with him in Paris where he was keen to talk about his latest creation, the Jaguar XE sedan, as well as some other projects he would love to work on.

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“I grew up in the hot hatch generation. I would love to do a high density small car.” His minder frowned as Callum joked that he is probably not supposed to be saying this. “It is a bit of a pet project of mine. It would have to be very brave but I would love to create a small car with great performance.”

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To illustrate his vision, Callum brought up the 2003 Jaguar R-D6 concept car that you see here. It was not the right time for Jaguar to create this car, being at a time when it was making huge advances in aluminium architecture, but the company was beginning to change its direction completely and it had to focus on its core models. At the time this was mainly the XJ so a small car was out of the question. However, like many people, Callum is fond of the era in which he grew up, one in which the Scotsman was surrounded by vehicles such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the Peugeot 205 GTi.

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Slightly different, perhaps, to the Jaguar image but the company has always been about blending sportscar dynamics with luxury and a sub-brand presents an exciting opportunity with many challenges. The success in this segment could well be a driving force to entice the company to dive in but, as Callum said, it is more of a personal vision for him and one which is not currently in the company’s long-term plan. Callum also said that a vehicle he would really like to produce is a small sportscar.

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Whether this would be a hot hatch along the lines of the R-D6 or a mini F-Type to take on the world’s most popular roadster, the Mazda MX-5, remains to be seen. It is not such a far-fetched idea though. After all, the F-Type was merely a design study by Callum’s team when Ratan Tata, the former chairman of parent company Tata Group, saw it in the office and told them to build it. That design team is constantly coming up with new designs, many of which are sadly confined to a desk drawer. Not all the designs are uniquely Jaguar and Callum said that “we catch younger guys using bits of BMW in designs and we smack them”.

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Sometimes this is all to do with design trends and Callum said that the fashion in the car world at the moment is for lots of lines and things. It is also important that the design team understands the issues relating to engineering demands. “Good design is not about compromise. It is about understanding of the issues,” Callum said. “You have to take on board all the issues. It is about problem solving.”

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This is never more true than today, where design and engineering teams have to work together to include numerous items of European and global legislation when it comes to safety, technology and emissions. Fortunately, he thinks that Jaguar’s competitors such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes have a much tougher set of hard points they have to stick to. The form book is less rigid for him and his team, which helped to create the new XE coming next year. An example is that the front wheel to dash distance is much longer than rivals’, he said. “I get excited that people talk about the XE as the modern Jaguar MkII”, but he emphasised that the MkII was not an inspiration for the new model.

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The XE is about architecture according to Callum, but most of all it is about “being better than everything else”. So what is Callum’s next big reveal? Well, that will be the next generation of the XF which will launch in the middle of 2015. I spoke to him a few years ago after the launch of the first generation and he told me to look back at the original concept to get some clues to the updated version. He smiled this time and said it will be “more mature in terms of package and space”, adding he is “hugely delighted with how XF will look.”

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These days Callum and his team are in a great space for designers, creating both evolution and revolution in existing and new models. While we can only speculate as to what might be around the corner for Jaguar, Callum is clearly excited about the new era he finds himself a fundamental part of.

Mark Smyth