CAR interviews Ian Callum: the future of Jaguar design (2009)

Published: 03 April 2009

CAR recently sat down with Ian Callum, Jaguar design director, for a frank and revealing interview. He confirmed that Jaguar will replace the X-type, revealed details of the new XJ saloon we'll see in July 2009, and disclosed the future styling direction for new Jaguar cars.

Among the highlights of the full interview – posted over the next four pages on CAR Online – are:

Details of 'three or four' new model lines his design department is working on
There will be 'smaller Jaguars' to replace the X-type
What to expect from the new XJ
Why it takes 10 years to change a company's design language
Callum's career plans after a decade at Jaguar
How they design prototype camouflage on Alias in the CAD studio
Why we shouldn't expect more concept cars from Jaguar
The new design world: a shouty, noisy, disjointed place

>> Read the full interview by clicking here

The XF's been out for over a year now. How do you feel about it now the dust's settled?

People are quick to make judgments on design. The real test is whether you like it after a year – does it still make you tick? I think the XF is doing that. Familiarity with the car isn’t changing it – it’s still exciting. Even now you’re beginning to see them on the road in numbers.

Does the XF symbolise where Jaguar design is right now?

When I started at Jaguar, I looked at what was around me: the designers, the studio, the people, the cars, the facilities. You never start from scratch in these situations. I decided then and there that it would take five years to start the change – I mean the perception outside the company – and 10 years to complete it. Almost by coincidence, September 2009 will be my 10 years at Jaguar. I think our plan is coming to fruition. Things are fitting into place for us as we hoped and expected them to. It’s reassuring.

So you’ll get a carriage clock!

[Laughs] No! When I arrived, I brought my favourite designers in with me. We set out on a journey and it's taken a while. The XK only came out three years ago, but now the pace of change has accelerated.

Come September, will the revolution be complete?

Yes, one chapter will be complete. We’ll have three cars out there [XK, XF, XJ] that for me completely nail what Jaguar is about. That was my vision when I started 10 years ago. I take some satisfaction from that. We’ve had better results than I would have anticipated 10 years ago.

But it must be a shame that your designs are coming to fruition just as the world economy judders to a halt?

True. But we feel very fortunate, given what’s going on around us, that we have the product where it should be. If we didn't, the market would be even harder. That’s all you can do really: make the cars as well engineered and designed as possible.

Yes. Even Jaguar's marketing department can't control the world economy...

True. But if we have good cars out there, we stand a much better chance of selling the product. But in this world, Jaguar has to make sure we don’t just maintain the status quo, we need to grow our market share. We need conquest sales. We stand a good chance of doing that, especially in the UK. So it’ll hurt us less.

>> There's a glitch with our page turning software – please click here for the third page of our Callum interviewWhat’s next from Jaguar then?

Let’s go back through our thought process. Every car we do is a learning process. I defy any designer to tell you otherwise – designers don’t work on a creative plateau, just dreaming and styling each new car. Every car must be better. And the older you get, the bigger the challenge to make them better.

So given the XF has been pretty successful in doing what we wanted it to do – changing the brand image and everything else – we need to move forwards with the next car. I don’t want to go back to a Jaguar world where we have a design standard and just bumble along for another 20 to 30 years. We have to keep moving. The way to do that is to make sure that every car you do is much better than the last one in every conceivable way, not just the design, but the engineering too.

Do you try and mentally take a break in between each project? Do you try and switch off?

I don’t consciously ever switch off. I live this stuff and breathe it. When I get time on my own after sign-off, I will take some time out with a sketchpad and try and rethink what we’ve done and where we go next. I can’t write it down, I have to draw it. I rigorously and with discipline work out what we screwed up and what we could do better. That’s what designers have to do. You have to look at what you’ve done and be utterly critical about it. And then we can make sure we don’t go off and do the same thing again.

So in broad brush strokes, what can we expect in future Jaguar design?

It'll be more assertive. We use the word a lot. Just look at the way the world is: people are so design aware now. It’s not enough to be beautiful and soft and discrete. But there are degrees of how we can do it – we don’t want to turn to aggression, just be more assertive. I want people to notice Jaguars and admire them.

But it’s a fine line. Jaguars are not about being in-yer-face and brash...

They’re not. It is a fine line. But we have been in danger of being too soft. Look around you at a motor show and notice some of the absolutely violent design. It’s armed warfare out there. It’s all spikes and lines, stuff that’s been dragged through a hedge!

It’s all about where you sit in this noisy world. Where Jaguar sat in the '60s with its purity and its beauty, you have to recalibrate that for the world you live in. And the world today is visually very aggressive. It might be driven by the fact that half of all US drivers own SUVs. It might be that there are two German rivals who are trying to outdo themselves with visual value. It's all 'look-at-me, look-at-me'.

Chris Bangle started that – I’m not saying it’s right or wrong – but that’s what’s happening. Jaguar can’t afford to be too sutble. I’ve only decided that in the past six months.

>> There's a glitch with our page turning software – please click here for the fourth page of our Callum interview
Will the financial crisis change design? Or is it such a long lag between what you draw and what we drive?

We don’t design cars for the credit crunch. We are designing today for four or five years' time. In the long term, I’m sure what people are designing today will be affected by the new world order. You can see that in culture, the way the financial system is changing. But you won’t see the results in three or four months' time, it’ll be years away. That’s why colours are so difficult. Each new colour takes two years to introduce. Paint is a component like any other. We need to prove it, test it and get it out there.

So four to five years hence... How many projects are you working on?

Three or four at the moment, in various sizes. It’s not as many as a company like BMW – they’ll be working on five or six at the moment.

What can you tell me about the new 2010 XJ?

I’m excited about it. It’s a natural development of where we’re going. With the XJ, the first section of our reinvention will have been achieved – our main cars, the XK, XF and the XJ, will follow this new form language. We’ve still got the old X-type there, and we’re going into a debate about what we’ll do in future with small cars. And we will do smaller cars again, there’s no doubt about that. In what form, we’ll have to wait and see. But the mainstay of Jaguar is luxury cars, and unashamedly high-performance cars – that’s what our heritage is. And green credentials will have to fit into it. By the time the new XJ comes out this summer, you’ll know what Jaguar stands for.

Will it be a bigger jump than from S-type to XF?

You’ll have to make that judgment when you see it. When we designed the XF, we didn't think of it as replacing the S-type. Not because I dismissed the S-type, but because I saw the XF as being the new Mark II, which is a car I loved as a teenager. I took all the values of the Mark II and translated them into the 21st century. There was nothing in between.

Will it be a similar process with the new 2010 Jaguar XJ?

With the XJ, the reference for me this time is another car I love: the first XJ. We’ll make the same leap – a 21st century version of the MkI XJ. There’s no point on making a reference to the cars in between, because I don’t feel any great soul for them. Every XJ after the 1968 original emulated that car. We worked out the values of the 1968 XJ. It had strength and innovation.

Will there be an XJ concept car?

I have a view that concept cars are valuable for own our experimentation and our own internal statements and, to some extent, public feedback. I think concept cars that show what we’re about to do have little value. They're indulgent. The C-XF had a job to do: we had to prepare the world for the new Jaguar. We don’t have to do that again. The anticipation for XJ is already there and people are already prepared for change. What I find flattering is the amount of interest this car is stirring up already.

Yes, we've been getting excited by the spyshots we've run...

Did you know we designed that camouflage on Alias [a CAD program] in the design studio!

>> There's a glitch with our page turning software – please click here for the fifth page of our Callum interview
Will the financial crisis change design? Or is it such a long lag between what you draw and what we drive?

We don’t design cars for the credit crunch. We are designing today for four or five years' time. In the long term, I’m sure what people are designing today will be affected by the new world order. You can see that in culture, the way the financial system is changing. But you won’t see the results in three or four months' time, it’ll be years away. That’s why colours are so difficult. Each new colour takes two years to introduce. Paint is a component like any other. We need to prove it, test it and get it out there.

So four to five years hence... How many projects are you working on?

Three or four at the moment, in various sizes. It’s not as many as a company like BMW – they’ll be working on five or six at the moment.

What can you tell me about the new 2010 XJ?

I’m excited about it. It’s a natural development of where we’re going. With the XJ, the first section of our reinvention will have been achieved – our main cars, the XK, XF and the XJ, will follow this new form language. We’ve still got the old X-type there, and we’re going into a debate about what we’ll do in future with small cars. And we will do smaller cars again, there’s no doubt about that. In what form, we’ll have to wait and see. But the mainstay of Jaguar is luxury cars, and unashamedly high-performance cars – that’s what our heritage is. And green credentials will have to fit into it. By the time the new XJ comes out this summer, you’ll know what Jaguar stands for.

Will it be a bigger jump than from S-type to XF?

You’ll have to make that judgment when you see it. When we designed the XF, we didn't think of it as replacing the S-type. Not because I dismissed the S-type, but because I saw the XF as being the new Mark II, which is a car I loved as a teenager. I took all the values of the Mark II and translated them into the 21st century. There was nothing in between.

Will it be a similar process with the new 2010 Jaguar XJ?

With the XJ, the reference for me this time is another car I love: the first XJ. We’ll make the same leap – a 21st century version of the MkI XJ. There’s no point on making a reference to the cars in between, because I don’t feel any great soul for them. Every XJ after the 1968 original emulated that car. We worked out the values of the 1968 XJ. It had strength and innovation.

Will there be an XJ concept car?

I have a view that concept cars are valuable for own our experimentation and our own internal statements and, to some extent, public feedback. I think concept cars that show what we’re about to do have little value. They're indulgent. The C-XF had a job to do: we had to prepare the world for the new Jaguar. We don’t have to do that again. The anticipation for XJ is already there and people are already prepared for change. What I find flattering is the amount of interest this car is stirring up already.

Yes, we've been getting excited by the spyshots we've run...

Did you know we designed that camouflage on Alias [a CAD program] in the design studio!

>> There's a glitch with our page turning software – please click here for the fifth page of our Callum interview
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  • Ian Callum: the CAR interview