By on April 28, 2020

Ever been to a party where the most interesting person wasn’t the life of the room, but the quiet person in the corner, calmly — perhaps a little shyly — sipping their drink and taking in all the things occurring before them?

Vehicle designers seem like that person. The braggadocious CEOs and upper-level execs can have their carefully scripted buzzwords and future-minded visions of a soulless future filled with robot cars and never not working, but a designer will want to talk about emotion. A feeling. A simple pleasure. A small feature with outsized importance.

Jaguar’s design boss likes to talk about those things, but he’s not afraid to raise the errors of the past.

Motor Authority‘s chat with Jaguar’s Julian Thomson, who took over from his mentor, Ian Callum, last year, is like a soothing balm.

Owner — and driver — of seven desirable automobiles (of which only two are Jags), Thomson looks forward to hitting the road once the UK’s lockdown orders lift.

“When the world reconnects, I don’t want some Uber thing to turn up at my door and take me around for a trip around the countryside,” he said. “I want to get in and drive. I want to have an experience.”


As for what comes after that emancipating drive, the 20-year Jag veteran says to expect a design language that puts the past where it belongs, while not skimping on what makes the brand special. This will be seen on the returning XJ — an electric car that loses none of the size or panache as the original. Given what we’ve seen of it, the new flagship might be more expressive than what came before.

Thinking back two decades, Thomson admits that Jag “overplayed it” with the retro angle. Recall the S-Type, the ill-conceived X-Type, and the final generation of old-style XJs. Hard to see where he’s wrong.

“We want a lot more of that romance, that emotional connection, that glamour attached to the brand. We want to bring that back again, not in a retro way, but I think we want to bring the specialness back to the Jaguar brand,” Thomson said.

Sure, there’ll be electrification (the EU demands it) and enough carefully selected and positioned autonomous drive features to placate the tech crowd, but the brand’s core mission will apparently remain intact.

“(Drivers) want to very much enjoy the trip as much as the destination. I think we’re well placed for that,” Thomson said, implying that low-volume offerings like slinky coupes still have a home in the brand’s lineup. It’s Jaguar, after all, and the “realization of freedom” is what driving’s all about — especially in a high-end vehicle.

“People dream when they buy our products,” he said. “They’re luxury products. That dream of the open road, and you may only experience it one or two times in the lifetime of the car, but that’s what’s keeping you attached to that product.”

Cadillac needs to hire someone who talks and thinks like Thomson.

[Image: Jaguar Land Rover]

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8 Comments on “Sometimes It’s Just Nice to Hear a Car Designer Talk About Driving...”

  • avatar

    “Hard to see where he’s wrong.”

    The retro designs were good, especially compared to what we got.

    The XF was a blob for most of its life and no one remembers what the super-generic XE looks like 10 seconds once it is out of sight. The E-Pace looks like a Sportage and the I-Pace looks like a fancy Caliber. The only “good one” is the F-Type. The F-Pace and XJ are passable.

    The interiors have also been underwhelming.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The XJ was discontinued. Or rather, it went on hiatus. The nameplate has been temporarily removed, while Jaguar readies an all-electric successor, to be called “XJ.”

  • avatar

    I really didn’t think there was still such a thing as “car designers”. I thought all cars were designed by committees, bean counters and engineers.

    Growing up I wanted to be either a car designer or architect, didn’t make either, but it’s nice to know they still exist

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I was surprised…there was a “Jay Leno’s Garage” episode where the one dude that designed the 05 Ford GT was on there. He went through the process where the engineers would have some need and he’d go draw something that met it. I guess on something like that it makes sense but I think most cars are products of the wind tunnel now.

      Incidentally he owned one and had driven it across country and put some real miles on it so he seemed like the sort you’d want doing the job if you are a car person.

  • avatar

    At least we have Ralph Gilles carrying the “car guy” flag on this side of the pond.

  • avatar

    Always thought the XJ was such a beautiful design – the one that arrived in 2010. It looks French in the swoopiness, but the interior looked like a private jet with the air vents and that wood trim line that curved around.

    So freaking cool. It’s too bad about the back seat if you get the regular wheelbase. It’s a large parcel shelf.

  • avatar

    Cadillac should, but wont.

    Where’s Deadweight dammit?

  • avatar

    This Thomson fellow isn’t the normal design guy these days in Europe if he’s the shy retiring type. Hell, literally down the hall he’s got the brash and loud Gerry McGovern doing Land Rovers, and well known for having kept Callum down by purloining most of the corporate cash. Well, LR sells almost ten times Jaguar output, so there’s that, but Callum wasn’t a pusher either.

    In Germany, the head of Mercedes design Gorden Wagener is so damn PR-ish, he’s invented terms like Sensual Purity to decribe his work, and put out coffee table books to record his incredible brilliance as he sees it. Luc Plonckerdonck went off to design Kias after VW/Audis/Bentleys, and he was the one who accused Lincoln of stealing his designs. Germans and Brit designers, gone freelance after seeing they weren’t going to displace the loudmouth self-promoters above them, are all over the place working for Chinese companies as well as the Koreans, and none are the shy retiring types. Doesn’t work for the career. Look at Fisker who did the tailights on some Aston and claimed the whole thing as his work. These days you have to sell your wares, even if all you’re doing is supervising a bunch of salary slaves working under you.

    Let’s see what Thomson can do for Jaguar. He’ll never do a 1968 Jag XJ6, nobody ever has – Sir William Lyons didn’t style cars like anyone else ever. But better hopefully than the US designers do with garish yet anonymous pickup trucks, characteristic of lowbrow taste, and anonymous blob crossovers with no redeeming features whatsoever. The days of the flamboyance of Earl and Mitchell and Jordan and Shinoda ended decades ago. Too bad. Their products were of a piece even if sometimes jarringly loud. Miss that.

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