Sports cars, EVs and the V8 in twilight: Ian Callum on Jaguar’s future

Published: 27 December 2017

► Ian Callum talks to CAR
► ‘I’ve never worked so hard’
► Pace of change,  SUVs and more

Launching the E-Pace small SUV, pushing the I-Pace electric car towards production, unleashing the 592bhp Project 8 that’s part XE saloon, part Concorde – 2017 has been ‘the busiest year of my life,’ reflects Jaguar director of design, Ian Callum.

It’s a wintry December evening, and the Godfather of British car design is holding court. Callum seems a little jaded and is looking forward to the Christmas break, but spits out his trademark thoughtful, provocative and honest soundbites.

‘I’ve never worked so hard and there’s no respite coming,’ he admits. ‘If somebody had said I’d be working on Jaguar SUVs and electric cars even seven or eight years ago, I’d have found that difficult to understand. But if you want to survive it’s about managing change.’

Jaguar E-Pace front tracking

Callum is one of the key custodians of the Jaguar brand, having helped drag it from Ford-era Jaguar when the designs were set in aspic, with modernised saloons such as the XF Mk1 and the current XJ, to being on the threshold of Jaguar launching the premium establishment’s first crossover EV.

Electrification and the I-Pace

‘The I-Pace – what a project, the most fun the company has worked on,’ reminisces Callum. ‘It’s a car I’ve had in my mind for a long time, a cab-forward family car resembling a supercar, you couldn’t do it with a conventional drivetrain. With a short front-end you can move the masses and the people forward. Jaguar and height don’t go together, but with I-Pace being an SUV gave us permission for the height.’

Due in production in spring 2018, the I-Pace employs a unique ‘skateboard’ platform, with the batteries packed underfloor between the two axles, which are spun by a motor at each end.

Jaguar I-Pace red rear tracking

Can this EV component set underpin sportier Jaguars? ‘We created the skateboard platform with a certain genre of cars in mind. It doesn’t totally suit a sports car, it’s physically too high. We have to think out of the box for that.’ Callum mutters approvingly of Porsche’s solution to keep the roofline of its forthcoming electric Mission E coupe low – leaving pockets of space in the floorpan for occupants’ feet, allowing the seats to be mounted lower.

Could the next XJ go EV?

Back in summer 2016, CAR reported that Jaguar will use the EV platform for a five-door coupe-cum-saloon, which conceivably could replace the XJ as Jaguar’s flagship. Callum won’t be drawn, but smiles with obvious excitement at a car which is ‘nearly signed off’. ‘We’ve gone through a lot of debate on the XJ and come up with something quite special,’ he adds. ‘I won’t say when it’s coming but it’s not next year.’

Jaguar XJR575 front cornering

With the I-Pace expected to hit 62mph in 4.0sec, its generously sized passenger cell and hushed EV running, electric Jaguars look set to live up to the company’s pace, grace and space dictum, dating back to the ‘50s and ‘60s. Indeed, 2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the XJ, which Jaguar plans to celebrate in a big way.

The Series 1 XJ was the car that triggered the teenage Callum’s ambition to work for Jaguar. ‘As we work on the next one, I’ll make sure it holds onto the values of the first one and the latest one.’ For Callum, core Jaguar values are about producing cars that are exaggerated, desirable and dynamic. 

How does the Project 8 fit into Jag’s brave new world?

With its supercharged V8 shoehorned into the XE’s nose, outrageous carbonfibre bodywork revised for cooling and downforce, and drive split between extended tracks, Project 8 is worlds away from I-Pace. ‘Internal combustion, V8 in the nose, sheer horsepower, mechanical drive: I think Project 8 is the last of its kind,’ muses Callum.

Jaguar XE SV Project 8 front trackinh

Don’t take that too literally – the V8-powered F-Pace SVR will take a bow in 2018 – but performance hybrids will become increasingly prevalent for petrolheads wishing to cut loose.

They’ll have to go some to beat the Project 8’s 7min 21.23sec Nürburgring lap time – it took the saloon car lap record by 11sec earlier this year.

Jaguar Design: an ideas incubator

This year’s new addition to the Jaguar range is the E-Pace, and Callum has to cast his mind back a few years to remember its origin. ‘Julian Thomson [director of advanced design] said let’s do a smaller F-Pace. I love small cars and it’s the nearest I can get to one. We got hold of the [new Evoque’s] D8 platform to make a driver’s car. We’ve captured the Jaguar essence inside something that shouldn’t be a Jaguar: it’s tall, short, practical and with a lot of room inside it.’

‘At Jaguar, design instigates so much,’ the 63-year-old designer continues. ‘Management say “we like that car, let’s have a look at the product plan…”. The F-Type, iPace concept and E-Pace were all created in design, they weren’t in the plan. So was the C-X75 [supercar concept, that was pulled from production in 2012]: one day, one day…!’

But it’s not cars like the E-Pace or XF Sportbrake that are responsible for Callum’s busiest year, but future-gazing the Jags of 2020 and beyond.

‘The whole industry is in a moment of questioning, analysing and experimenting: if we could all jump forward 30 years [to when everything has settled down], we’d all be happy to do that.

Jaguar I-Pace rear quarter

‘The perfect storm is coming over the next 10 years, digitalisation, connectivity. There’s electrification of the car itself, it’s not if but when, then it’s autonomy, then it’s the whole ownership [shift], ordering a car [journey] on your smartphone. BMW, Mercedes… every car company is going through the same angst, but we can move a bit quicker – the iPace… I think that surprised a few people.’ 

But with these revolutionary shifts, will Jaguar remain a sports car company? ‘The company makes a lot of money out of SUVs, and money out of sports cars, and you’ve got to protect those bookends,’ muses Callum. ‘If you want a brand to prosper, you need to create extremeties, such as the Porsche 911. It’s arguable that the Boxster is a better car, but it’s about the outliers. Going back to the [1930s] SS1 and SS100, Jaguar has always been about exotic sports cars. In my mind we have to continue with that – and in most people’s minds too.’

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By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine