Ian Callum on Jaguar design

Jaguar design suffered under Ford. The giant American carmaker that owned the niche British firm from 1989 to 2008 replaced Jaguar’s quirky identity with a non-descript generic one. Thankfully under new owner India’s Tata we are progressively seeing a return of the lost magic that made Jaguar cars so evocative.

The current design, however, is very much down to Ian Callum’s vision that is drawing on the marque’s rich heritage to explore a very contemporary Jaguar aesthetic. Under his astute design direction the current family of cars have adopted a modern, confident design identity.

Design Talks has been busy driving the range that includes the XF, XK and XJ, as well as arguably one of the most evocative classic cars in history, the E-Type, which we tested on the eve of its 50th birthday at du Parc des Eaux Vives on the edge of Geneva, the very place where founder Sir William Lyons first unveiled the car half a century ago.

To complete our ‘Jaguar experience’ we caught up with Ian Callum over dinner to explore the thinking behind Jaguar design.

Ian Callum inside the Jaguar XKR-S at the Geneva Motor Show 2011 Photo© Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks The XKR-S, unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, is the fastest Jaguar production car and a pretty powerful looking machine. How do you marry this with your clean car ambitions as demonstrated in the CX-75 concept car?

Ian Callum The XKR-S is the cleanest car in its class. But you are right, we have to find a balance. We’re not going to sell many of these cars, but we are a performance car company so we have to have something saying we are capable of doing this. The challenge in the future is to have a car like this with extremely green credentials.

DT The CX-75 was a really interesting take on green, clean automobile design.

IC It was our attempt at an advanced car to demonstrate how you can have performance and style, an almost outrageous supercar design, but at the same time maintain proper green credentials. We’ve developed the technology for it and it would be a terrible shame not to build this car. In my view it is everything the brand stands for.

DT Does the CX-75 demonstrate your approach to sustainable design?

IC There is this idea that when you enter a green car it has to be bizarre, slightly in keeping with people who are not interested in the motorcar. I don’t believe that.

The irony is that once you get into an electrically driven powertrain your flexibility is much higher. You no longer have a great lump of metal at the front that drives everything in terms of package. And when you have four electric motors in each wheel then you are so free to design. As we enter this more conscientious world we have to take the performance with us. And it is hugely challenging.

DT Jaguar has such a fantastically rich heritage and now that you’re celebrating the E-Type’s 50th anniversary, you can’t fail to fall in love with its evocative design.

IC I saw a picture of the E-Type in the back of Life magazine when I was six. I asked my dad what the car was and he told me it is the new Jaguar. It just looked so modern. I don’t think this made me want to become a car designer but I was so drawn by it.

You can’t overstate the impact the E-Type had back then. You have to remember the car was accessible and so much cheaper than the Mercedes’ of the time. It completely encapsulated the spirit of the revolutionary era it came to symbolise.

DT Why do you suppose the design is so evocative?

IC What’s fascinating about the car is that its creator Malcolm Sayer used mathematics for the shape the car  – it is geometrically shaped for perfect aerodynamics and the irony is that it didn’t have very good aerodynamics.

Sayer was a metric man, he was an engineer not a designer like us. Basically what he did was to wrap the metal around the structure and fit two people in it. The sculpture is almost by default.

DT You’ve hinted at a small entry-level Jaguar in the near future. How would you go about designing this?

IC I think it will be very difficult because a Jaguar will always need to have visual length, and the easiest way to achieve this is by lengthening the car. So in this case the trick will be to achieve visual length without adding length. This is what we’ve done in the XJ – giving the car as much visual length as we can.

The first thing I would do is to make sure we didn’t default into something that is very vertical with lots of curvaceous lines to look cute. It has to be sophisticated.

If you look at the E-Type it is a small car with visual length – it is all about this great big long bonnet. I suspect the long bonnet is probably referencing a woman – it is too voluptuous to be a man.

DT Do you believe the E-Type’s design will continue to impact on Jaguars of the future?

IC Yes. It is its spirit that I try to capture in our cars and I strongly believe the CX-75 has the expression of the E-Type.

DT Do you feel it is struggle to find a balance between the digital and the mechanical?

IC This is a very good question and we go through a little bit of a dilemma here. We will reach a balance of what the human spirit needs.

Sitting in the E-Type and playing with the switches, there is something wonderfully tactile about all the mechanical effort – the noises they make and that they give you a feedback.

I think it is very important to maintain that. There is so much you can put on a touch screen. In fact with the next generation of touch screen when you touch them a little pulse will give feedback. That tactility is so important to human expression.

With this car you are very much in control down to the rubber that touches the road. It is the same with the new XKR-S sports car but we have added so much in between so that you don’t screw it up! That’s why it’s sometimes nice to switch to old cars, as you are at one with it. There is no pretence and no forgiveness.

DT You have put a lot of emphasis on the interior design of the new family of cars. How far can you take this aspect of Jaguar design?

IC I think it is limitless, we have a lot to discover and a lot to learn and we’re just starting to scratch the surface. I started as an interior designer at Ford – I was a reluctant designer I wanted to do the emotional stuff. So when I broke away my whole focus was on exterior expression, the sculpture and the interior took second stage.

By the time we did the XF and the XJ my focus had returned to the interior because I was realising the opportunities are enormous. And you can have so much fun with the interior.

DT How do you see the future developing with interior design?

IC The smell side will be very important: wafting smells of cut grass or leather. It will become so impressive that I think architects will start learning from the car business because we have a wholly controlled environment.

The other thing I want to get into is the tactility of materials. Our leathers are very well protected to last a good 10 to 15 years. The car industry is so rigid with standards but I think there’s a huge opportunity to experiment with leathers, even create artificial ones to give that lovely soft creamy leather feel which you can only get in domestic furniture.

Oh and lighting as well – fun lighting. I think finding solutions in interior design is infinite.

Read how personal electronic devices are impacting on the interior design of Jaguar cars in Jaguar’s Quirky Cabin Design. Also, have a look at current car design trends from the Geneva Motor Show.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Video: Ian Callum discusses the interior of the latest XJ

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