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Sculpting a Reputation: Jaguar Design Guru Ian Callum on the 2011 XJ


Jaguar chief of design Ian Callum knows a thing or two about cars. As an automotive designer for 30 years, Callum has laid his fingerprints all over some of the past decades’ most iconic vehicles, from the Jaguar XK to the Aston Martin DB12 Vanquish. With his latest work, the Jaguar XJ, Callum was tasked with preserving the stately luxury Jaguar has always been known for, while moving the brand forward into a more contemporary light. We had the opportunity to sit down with the congenial Scot to talk about designing the new XJ, the nerve of body kit designers, and where Jaguar is headed in the future.

Where did you begin with the XJ?

The car starts off as the platform from the previous car – which is a very good platform, by the way. It’s certainly worthy of another 10 years, no doubt about it. But we changed it. We changed some of the major dimensions, including the track of the car. So getting the stance of the car right was our first and foremost priority. So we wanted the track right. The wheelbase is the same, but we wanted to give the car a little more presence. Because when you get a wider track, you can then build the car inboard of that, it all comes from the wheel and goes outward.

The swoopy coupe-like profile of the XJ defies the traditional three-box design of most sedans.
The swoopy coupe-like profile of the XJ defies the traditional three-box design of most sedans.

That was the first priority. The next one was to decide whether it would be a three box car, like a generic luxury car – Audi, BMW, Mercedes – or to do something different. We went a marketing clinic with this and asked people what they thought, and they unanimously came back with the answer that we should do something different, because it’s Jag. We’re allowed to do that. They expected that of us. So the coupe profile was evolved at that point. So you’ve got the track, you’ve got the profile, and you build the car over that.

I always say when you’re designing something, you need a hook. You need something which drives everything else. There needs to be a hierarchy of discipline in it. In this car, that really is the graphic of the window. Visually, it’s a very strong graphic. It gives the car some visual length. We established that this graphic would be a primary part of the overall style of the car. And we designed the car around that, really. That really was the process.

Why did you choose a glass roof?

The glass roof came into play for two reasons. One was, we wanted to the car to look modern and exotic, and glass roofs I think do look exotic. But also, it’s a package advantage, because it takes up less room than a conventional sunroof by a height of about 25 or 30 millimeters, so we gained that in the height of the roof. It allowed us to lower it a little bit more, which is always good, from a design point of view. Yea, we could have put more room inside, but it’s a Jag, it needs to have that sense of sort of exotic sportiness to it. We just evolved from there, really.

How did you decide to shape the front end?

2011 Jaguar XJ
2011 Jaguar XJ

It had to be very bold. Because people who drive cars like these want the world to know they drive that car. They’re not shrinking violets, most of these people. They’re usually very successful people, and the have a lot of character. They want their car with a lot of character.

What parts of a traditional Jaguar design did you preserve?

The tail lamps were an interesting exercise. We put vertical lamps in because that was traditional, for Jag, the older ones. So we’ve picked up traditions, but we’ve sort of taken them another step forward, and ran the lamps over the top, which was a bit of fun.

What’s the most unique part of the new XJ?

I would say its proportions. The window graphic is very slim, it’s got quite a deep body, but’s a very elegant shape. And it’s really about that overall proportion, or stance. We’ve seen a few now, they really stand out. They’ve got that instance graphic which is not generic, luxury, three-box sedan. It’s something else.

2011 Jaguar XJ
2011 Jaguar XJ

I really like what we’ve done with the back of the car. Even as a team of designers, we were having rather controversial moments amongst ourselves. We started off with the back end of the car, which was relatively generic, the graphics were. I really didn’t feel comfortable. I kept saying, “We’ve got to do something special here.” So we pushed and we pushed. You have to be brave, and I’m learning that as I get older. I’ve gotten to a point where I care less about what my peers think, and I do what I think is probably the right thing to do. Age gives you that advantage sometimes. The ego is less dentable when you’re older. The back actually works well, it has a real character about it.

Tell us about the interior.

It just oozes character. With XF, we knew we were not great at interiors. We had lovely interiors, they were very predictable: lots of wood, good quality pieces, good quality artifacts and function. But not very exciting. So when we went off to do XF, we really wanted to do something quite different and original, shake people off. Jag can do something that’s not what you expect. And that really got us on a nice road with XJ. And with XJ, I wanted to take it to a new level of excitement and fun.

2011 Jaguar XJ

It’s a very simple architecture. Visually, there’s a piece of wood that runs around it, which is a very bold statement. It’s our wood. We make it all ourselves. And it’s very much part of the Jaguar culture. It’s wood that’s supposed to be there as a structural element. OK, it’s veneer and it’s on a subsurface, but for all and intents and purposes, it looks like it’s part of the car, which is what it should do. Especially when we’re going to do the speakers – we want something that we can plant the speakers into, almost like a cabinet. Having got this very, very simply architecture and a very low dashboard – it takes a lot of effort to get the dashboard that low, we took about 60 millimeters out of the height of the dashboard, from where we started. We wanted it low, I wanted the feeling you’re sitting in this kind of wind open space, and it works. With that simple architecture, and the indulgence of all the bright work, the chrome and the metal vents – and they are metal, not plastic – the piano black, it allows that sort of sparkle to come through.

Deliberately, we’ve put ourselves into a sort of 10 percent discomfort zone. People say “This is going to be too much,” but as it turns out, it’s not. People like it. That’s how the interior came about.

We saw the matte black XK done by Jesse James outside the Jaguar launch party last night. Does it pain you to see that at all?

I love that car!


You don’t mind when people modify the cars you’ve done?

If they do it to my liking, I don’t have a problem with it! It’s when you get some of these body kits that come out. I won’t mention any names, but there are a couple of companies in Europe that do bodykitted XFs and XKs. I loathe them, because I know we could do a better job at Jaguar. And I think we’ll do more of that stuff at Jaguar, we’ll do more hotted up cars at Jaguar. We have the confidence now to do it. I think when people make these statements, they’re not really thought through. They’re clumsy, they’re not really designed by designers I would necessarily employ. I get irritated. But you have to just put it to one side. But stuff like the Jesse James car, that’s right down my street. I thought it was really cool. I’m not saying it’s like every car has to be like that, but there’s room for a few.

Have you ever seen anybody that has done something that you thought, “I wish I had thought of that!”?

Arden's take on the Jaguar XF.
Arden's take on the Jaguar XF.

Ummm, no. [laughs] I think if someone puts 22-inch wheels on a car or something, slams it to the weeds, I love it. And of course I say “I wish we could do that,” but I know the downside to a car like that is that it will ride very badly. And it’s all show and no go, really. If I owned a Jag myself that I could play with, I would probably do the same thing. I would tolerate the hard ride and just have something that looked great. But in terms of bodykits and aftermarket kits, I don’t see very much that I admire, not in Jags. And I don’t mind them knowing that, either! Someone did a new face on the XF lately. They put a whole new nose on it, which is a triangular-shaped nose, and I think it’s appalling. I think it’s a really bad piece of design; It doesn’t do anything for the car at all. And it’s retrospectively going backwards, going into an older design. Very subjective, this stuff, really.

On the subject of your subjectivity, what has caught your eye at this year’s show?

I haven’t seen anything, I’ve been too busy doing interviews! I want to go see the Porsche Boxster Spyder. I like the whole concept of that car, taking any height out of a car is always a good thing, so I’m looking forward to seeing that. I really admire Porsches. A car that wasn’t announced here – the new A8 – I’m looking forward to seeing that. And I’ve got to go see what they’ve done to the Ford Fiesta, which my brother was involved with! Make sure he’s still doing a good job. I’ll let him know if he’s not.

Do you have a rivalry with him?

No, we really are the best of friends, and we have absolute, total respect for one another. And I don’t think we’ve ever said any derogatory words to each other about each other’s work. Moray’s good. He’s a good designer. I think we think very similar, actually. He’s got a real job, I’ve got a dream job. He’s got a big job, chief of North American design and stuff, huge.

A lot of the cars coming out at this year’s show have been hybrids, or fully electric. Do you see future technologies like that freeing you from the traditional restraints of design for internal combustion cars?

Audi's E-Tron uses four individual electric motors for true Quattro all-wheel drive.
Audi's E-Tron uses four individual electric motors for true Quattro all-wheel drive.

I think the jury’s still out on how all that’s going to evolve, and I’ll be the first to admit that. Once you release the shackles of an internal combustion engine and driveshafts and everything else, things clearly will change. I predict batteries will be store in the middle of the cars because that’s probably the best place for them, and electric motors, while much smaller, will be put either in the front or the back, or even both, I don’t know. Motors may even be in the individual wheel; that might be the ultimate goal, eventually. And that will clearly change the shape of the car.

I’ve given this a lot of thought. People always ask the question, “Where is it going to, and what’s going to happen?” For Jaguar, it still has to be a gorgeous car. It may not need the long hood anymore. It may need a longer trunk, I don’t know. But whatever happens, once we get to the architecture of all these components, then the shape will change, and I think the length of the hood will shorten dramatically. We’ll still have crush requirements, of course, but I look forward to just developing a whole new silhouette for the motor car. It’s very exciting.

What do you think the timeline for electric and hybrid vehicles will look like?

There will be levels of how this is going to move forward. I don’t think, in 10 years’ time, everything is going to be electric. I think we’ll have a combination of electric, series hybrid, parallel hybrid, there may be some hydrogen. I’m not sure if hydrogen is the answer – but driving electric motors, anyway. And there will still be internal combustion engines. V8s, V6s, V12, who knows. I think exotic sports cars will still have the internal combustion engine for a while, and when we must we’ll change it.

The EV car has got a long way to go to meet what people expect out of a car now. You get a car now, you do 300 or 400 miles, you fill up in the space of 10 or 15 minutes.

It also depends where the electricity is coming from. If it’s coming from a coal burning power plant, it’s a total waste of time. So I think the jury is still out on how this is all going to pan out. There’s no doubt about it: Change will come.

Where Jaguar will fit in, that debate goes on as well. We’re already doing a series hybrid based on the XJ. It’s a full-time electric car with a generator. And that’s a car we’re working on over the next two or three years, we may or may not make some, we’ll see. It’s a concept, a research program. It’s very impressive stuff – I’ve driven it actually. Quick. Fun. A lot of torque. But the issue is, it costs money. These cars are a good $10 or $15 thousand more. And I think with a luxury product like this, we’ve got a much better chance of not losing the difference in cost, but allowing the difference in cost into the price of the car. Whereas, you get a car the size of a Golf or a Mini, that differentiation in cost is going to be very, very painful. Nobody has really addressed that yet. There’s a lot of hybrids running around, but I doubt they make any money. This battery technology is damned expensive. It will take time. So that’s where we are. We’re not ignorant of it. We know what’s going on, we know what we need to do. I think a lot of it depends on where the world feels this infrastructure is going to work out.

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