This article also appears in
Subscribe now »

Ian Callum with the new XE sports sedan, which marks the start of a more eclectic trend for Jaguar's model range.

Jaguar Design Director on the shape of things to come

Ian Callum admits that he was petrified when he joined Jaguar. He knew it was no longer the company he had admired since he was a kid—no longer dynamic, modern, youthful: “I thought, right, what I am going to do is help fix it. I reckoned that would take 10 years; 16 years later we are just about getting there!”

“There were moments when what I was trying to do did not receive approval. I can say that now, as it was under its previous management (Ford), they did not understand it—particularly with regard to the XF. It was a shock to the culture, both of many within Jaguar and within Detroit. But the XF has been a resounding success.

“Once new management (Tata) and confidence were set, Jaguar became a great place to be.”

Unveiled at this year’s New York International Auto Show (see, the latest XF uses a new aluminum architecture, has better packaging, and is a more pragmatic solution than the outgoing model.

An evolutionary design, the XF will be joined later this year by the F-Pace “performance crossover,” as Jaguar likes to refer to it, both using the same basic architecture. The production crossover is very closely based on the C-X17 concept. The two models, plus the XE (which also uses the new architecture) and the F-Type sports car, mark a major design and engineering generation shift for Jaguar.

Keeping up the F-Pace

“F-Pace is the car I swore I’d never design—but we’ve done it, and now I’m absolutely delighted with the result,” said Callum, whose design portfolio has majored on sports cars. The first sketches were done about 4 years ago. “It had to be fundamentally a Jaguar. We had a few initial shots of it, the first rather generic looking, which worried me, but then we moved into Jaguar mode.”

Although his design team “all speak, act, and behave in one direction,” Callum stressed: “But we have tension of ideas, thoughts, and different ways of doing things. That’s creative, and we all want to create something that is inherently a Jaguar—something we all understand instinctively.”

So what’s coming next? “A slight change of design and style, not hugely, but you will see a definite move away into something that will be recognized as another generation," said Callum. "And you will also see a much more eclectic mix of vehicles; we are being very open minded. Aluminum will be even more about what we are, and we are hugely focused on the ecological future.”

For several decades the task of car design has been changing. In the 1980s, it emerged from a chrysalis called “styling” and started to become a far more mature, far more technologically and safety conscious discipline. Now it is expanding further.

Autonomous challenge

Callum says that Jaguar is well aware that the future of transportation will see great changes. He confesses that he does not have a “great love to autonomous driving” although he is sure that it will eventually happen: “Connectivity is going to be huge, but what I need to ensure is that connectivity is not going to change the very essence of driving a car. It’s a bit of a challenge.”

Part of it is to anticipate how an owner or user would regard his/her car in a future of full autonomy vehicles; to take pride in it, or simply regard it as a commodity. “But maybe he or she would keep a sports car for the weekend, like a racehorse or a pair of skis.”

There is a mechanism within Jaguar (and Jaguar Land Rover—JLR) for committees to work out the company’s long-term future direction and the emerging changes—many fundamental, in all design, technology, and emerging business sectors—will bring.

Facing up to change

“It is a very difficult point for me because the aesthetic of a car lies with design. I think I have got through that mentally now; I went through that transition knowing we have to change.” Listening to the views—often challenging—of his team, helped, explained Callum. In conversation he often mentions the importance and value of teamwork.

But he is cautious about the likelihood of Jaguar design breaking out with radically different solutions.

Whatever emerges, many salient aspects of design technology will remain. One of these is aerodynamics. The new XF has a best Cd of 0.26, achieved via incremental fine tuning. The smaller, all-new XE also manages a Cd of 0.26.

Callum says that low Cd (coefficient of drag) figures and some body design “curves and shaping” don’t necessarily naturally make for aerodynamic efficiency. However, he envisages Cd lowering still further, to reach a remarkable (for a series production car) 0.20 within about six years, without impairing required styling. In particular, this would be achieved via active air management systems: “To me, design is about problem solving. That problem is to make a car look great as well as accommodating all the needs of aerodynamics, pedestrian safety (an F-Type’s hood is about 300mm higher than that of a 1961 E-type), and manufacturing in aluminum.”

Is aluminum cramping his styling? Aluminum does put some constraint on sharpness with an inability (at present) to achieve those very tight and much discussed radii, said Callum, but he emphasizes that he prefers it to steel, which is an interesting point in view of Jaguar’s Tata (Steel) ownership. “Radii involve some bartering with engineering. They may come up with a high figure, then I say I want a much lower one, and the discussion continues to an amicable agreement; but, aluminum is the right material for us.”

Reducing weight remains paramount despite some of Callum’s targets: “I am pushing now for lightweight big wheels.”

He and his team are also focusing on the development of interiors: “We are doing a lot of work defining ‘specialness.’ I have a mission to really focus on this for future models. Really special interiors are what the brand has always deserved, and I want to get it back to something that is quite exquisite.”

A total car person

Now aged 60, Callum remains a total car person. He owns a very extensively modified Jaguar Mk. 2 3.8-L that he designed just for himself. But from a pure design aspect, his favorite car is the 1960 short-wheelbase Ferrari 250 with body by Scaglietti.

Of his own creations, the Jaguar F-Type coupé tops the list.

Is there scope for a step change “wow factor” car like the E-type? “I think there is, but given our current set of constraints (legislation, safety, etc.), that’s reasonably unlikely.”

He admits to sketching a variation of the Porsche 911: “I think it would have been wonderful to have designed a 911 at some point in its history.” He admires each iteration except the 996. “Expectations for the 911 are very, very specific.”

Couldn’t the E-type design have been rolled forward over the decades like that of the rear-engined Porsche? He thinks not: “The E-type may be dramatically proportioned but just try getting in or—even more difficult—out of the coupe; that would be utterly unacceptable today. However, put in safety to that design and you get an F-type.”

Might the eclectic mix of models include a luxury car smaller than the XE? Callum certainly did not confirm that. If Jaguar did build a smaller sedan, though, front-wheel drive would almost certainly be required, which would seem to be anathema to the champion of exclusively front engine, rear or all-wheel drive sporty production cars—but then BMW did so.

With the 2016MY Jaguar lineup of XE, XF, F-Type, F-Pace, and XJ, Callum is confident that Jaguar’s sales are set to soar from the present figure of around 90,000 units per annum. “Never underestimate the customer’s ability to recognize good design” is a Callum maxim, which comes as no surprise.

What is surprising, though, is that he does not single out style, performance, handling, quality, or luxury as the priority of those customers. “It’s efficiency. Yes, they want all those things that make a Jaguar a Jaguar but they want frugality. So efficiency is always what we aim for—and it is what we deliver.”

Continue reading »