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        3. Future Design: Where Does Jaguar Go From Here?

        Future Design: Where Does Jaguar Go From Here?

        We talk to Julian Thomson, Jaguar’s new director of design, about its future cars and crossovers.

        Julian Thomson took over the mantle as design director for Jaguar on July 1, 2019, with the retirement of Ian Callum who had overseen the sculpting of the brand's look for two decades. The two men first met in 1983 and have been friends and colleagues since. Both joined Jaguar in 2000.

        Thomson previously worked at Volkswagen and Ford, both of which he found too big for him to have a voice and effect change. Conversely, during his 12 years at Lotus he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, but the company's overall impact was small. "So you want to find a company that's a right size where you can realize your dreams, you can have a very positive effect, and that's what I find with Jaguar Land Rover in my position now," Thomson tells MotorTrend in an interview from his home in England.

        With 300 designers, Jaguar is big enough to be a proper, serious, premium car company but small enough to know everyone, says the man who spent most of his time as advanced design director for both Jaguar and a brief stint on the Land Rover side.

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        Thomson oversaw the team's move to a new design studio in Gaydon, England, in August. Finally all under one roof, the design group was energized in their new space with lots of tech and the capacity to make 20 full-size clay models at a time and explore different versions.

        Then, everyone was told to work from home. "So, this has been a shock for us to have to disperse like this, but the sense of family and community amongst all of us, and how we're working, I think we've adapted very well to working like this," Thomson says. "It's fun."

        Design Work Has Not Stopped

        Development work has not stopped, the design chief says. "At the moment, everything is carrying on as before. Nothing has changed there. Obviously, going forward, in terms of timing and how long this affects the automotive industry, we don't know, really. We're just in the lap of the gods in terms of that. But at the moment, we're not changing any of our future plans."

        A key unveil that was set for this year is the new flagship XJ sedan. Thomson can't confirm timing or whether it will still be this year, even though the electric sedan is essentially done. But there is the complexity of getting the whole production system back up and running after plants stopped making vehicles on top of the challenge of launching a new vehicle.

        Thomson and Callum were among the 300 designers at Jaguar with a hand in the new XJ executive sedan. "It's a stunning car, it really is, and we're all very, very pleased with it," Thomson says. "It's a very significant product. XJ was really, really significant when it was launched in the '70s, and that car really rewrote the book on luxury executive cars, as they were then, and I think this one really does question the values of what F-segment luxury sedans are about. It's a very different product, but a very refreshing product, in that way." The car has a different profile and interprets luxury as serenity, calm, and warmth, he says. "It's not a traditional business sedan."

        The new XJ will also introduce design signatures that will mark the brand going forward and enhance an overall goal of beautiful cars with the right proportions, not quirky or overdetailed, but "lovingly honed to perfection," says the designer.

        Face Could Be Stronger

        "I think we have a face for Jaguar now, which people are starting to recognize, but it could be stronger going forward, so we want to work on that a bit more," Thomson says. "We want to have a few design cues in the cars which are more consistent across the brand." He wants simplicity, purity, and confidence, as well as a sense of movement. "Cars are very three-dimensional; when you walk around one, it changes shape. They're very sculptural, and we're probably more attentive than any other car company when it comes to clay modeling. We see that being extremely important.

        "I think, for the size of company we are, we have one of the biggest clay facilities out there," Thomson continues. "We have 10 double-size plates, and we do 20 full-size clay models at a time, which is a lot for a company of our size. It allows you to do more different versions of things. It allows you to explore more. We've been doing a lot of things over the last year, just really challenging our own views about what Jaguar can be and how they should look."

        When Callum and Thomson joined Jaguar in 2000, they were challenged to make the brand more contemporary and tasked with adding SUVs. Both men feel that chapter has been completed.

        Next Chapter for Jaguar

        Going forward, while Callum has his own design consulting company, Thomson faces the challenges associated with electric, autonomous, and connected vehicles. "The time really is for the next wave of design," he said. His team is doing more experimentation. The large clay model capacity is helping the design team challenge its own views about what Jaguar can be and how the vehicles should look.

        "We'd like to bring back a lot more of the individualism of Jaguar, a lot more excitement, a bit more of the glamor about it," Thomson says. "I keep on saying we want to make them more Jaguar: We want them to get more special, more different, more beautiful, more exotic." He wants new models to be more different within the brand and, collectively, for the brand to be more distinct.

        Jaguar Versus Land Rover

        That means being distinct from sister brand Land Rover, as well, even though Jaguar is itself becoming crossover-heavy. Thomson sees Land Rover as a maker of capable SUVs and Jaguar as sporty crossovers. "Ultimately, Range Rovers are more luxury, and they'll definitely have better off-road ability, as well," he says. "There's a huge spectrum of SUVs and products, and we think there's space for both to exists alongside each other."

        Moving to the new site in Gaydon means the Jaguar and Land Rover design studios are about 50 meters apart, separated by a big viewing area. About 60 to 70 percent of the engineers and model makers are shared between the two brands, but the crucial people to each brand stay separate and there's friendly competition.

        "Jaguar people don't want to do Land Rovers, and Land Rover people don't want to do Jaguars," says Thomson. "That's the way it is. It's very important that we build up a real sense of passion within each studio about the brand, a real sense of belief, and we find that switching people backwards and forwards doesn't really help us." There is sharing of vehicle architectures, powertrains, and technology, but in ways that suit the respective brands.

        Sports Car Design Important

        The focus is on making the current portfolio distinctive. There will be growth on the car side (XJ is coming), and Thomson says he will continue to design as many sports cars as the company allows. "Every designer likes doing sports cars. They're fun and they represent the ultimate realization of the motoring dream. That's what it's all about, and that's what Jaguar was founded on. It started out in sports cars, it started out in racing, and it's right in the heart of what we do; it's the proof of the pudding. So very, very important for us. I know they're increasingly difficult to rationalize in the modern world, but that dream, that realization of the dream, is very, very important for our customers and for Jaguar itself."

        Thomson sees a future for sedans if they can be designed differently than the three-box car that is losing favor with consumers who prefer crossovers. "I'm also hoping that, with increasing intensity of interest of efficiency in cars, I think sedans could make a comeback because they are smaller and they're more aerodynamic; they work well with electric powertrains. I think there's a good future for them, but they will have to change."

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        Nor will he abandon special edition projects or SVR and R performance variants. SVR is a nimble operation that can cut through a lot of the development time and react quickly to market trends. These cars are special, and Thomson wants the team to be more ambitious going forward and further elevate the brand.

        Challenges of an Electric Future

        Electric vehicles are tricky because consumers haven't fully bought in yet, infrastructure is lacking, cost is high, and battery weight is an issue, especially with the public's high expectations for range. Thomson believes the Jaguar I-Pace is "every inch a Jaguar," and the XJ shows the brand's commitment to electric vehicles.

        Autonomous vehicles also add a lot of tech and weight. "It's a very, very impressive thing when it works, but it's also massively complex and massively expensive," Thomson says.

        And how is he doing in these strange times? "I've really missed driving over the last few weeks. I really, really did. I look out on the street now, and I just want to go and drive a car." He found a farm that sells eggs, which is miles out of his way. "I've never had any interest in that farm before, but now that's where I go to get my eggs because I just have to drive the car somewhere."

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