Sometimes It's Just Nice to Hear a Car Designer Talk About Driving

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
sometimes its just nice to hear a car designer talk about driving

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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  • Redapple Redapple on Apr 28, 2020

    Cadillac should, but wont. Where's Deadweight dammit?

  • Conundrum Conundrum on Apr 28, 2020

    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.

  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.
  • Dukeisduke I subscribed to both Road & Track and Car and Driver for over 25 years, but it's been close to 20 years since I dropped both. I tried their digital versions with their reader software (can't remember the name now), but it wasn't the same. I let it lapse after a year.From what I've seen of R&T's print version, it's turned into more of a lifestyle thing like The Robb Report. I haven't seen an issue of C/D in a while.I enjoyed both magazines a lot when I was subscribing. R&T for the road tests (especially the April Fools road tests), used car reviews, historical articles, and columns like Peter Egan's Side Glances and Dennis Simanitis's Technical Correspondence. And C/D for the road tests and pithy commentary, and columns like Gordon Baxter's, and Jean Shepherd's (that goes way back to the early '70s).
  • Steve Biro It takes very clever or amusing content for me to sit through a video vehicle review. And most do not include that.Tim, you wrote :"Niche titles aren't dying because of a lack of interest from enthusiasts, but because of broader changes in the economics of media, at least in this author's opinion."You're right about the broader changes in economics. But the truth is that there IS a lack of interest from enthusiasts. Part of it is demographics. Young people coming up are generally not car and truck fans. That doesn't mean there are no young enthusiasts but the numbers are much smaller. And even those who consider themselves enthusiasts seem to have mixed feelings. Just take a look at Jalopnik.And then we come to the real problem: The vast majority of new vehicles coming out today are not interesting to enthusiasts, are not fun to drive and/or are just not affordable.You can argue that EVs are technically interesting and should create enthusiasm. But the truth is they are not fun to drive, don't work well enough yet for most people and are very expensive.EVs on the race track? Have you ever been to a Formula E race? Please.And even if we set EVs aside, the electronic nannies that are being forced on us pretty much preclude a satisfying driving experience in any brand-new vehicle, regardless of propulsion system. Sure, many consumers who view cars as transportation appliances may welcome this technology. But they are not enthusiasts. I don't know about you, but I and most car fans I know don't want smart phones on wheels.There is simply not that much of interest to write about. Car and Driver and Road & Track are dipping deeper into nostalgia and their archives as a result. R&T is big on sponsoring road trips for enthusiasts - which is a great idea. But only people with money to burn need apply.And then there is the problem of quality in automotive writing. As more experienced people are let go and more money is cut from publications, the quality and length of pieces keeps going down, leading to the inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.Even the output on this site is sharply reduced from its peak. And the number of responses to posts seems a small fraction of what it used to be. This is my first comment since the site was recently relaunched. I don't expect to be making many in the future.Frankly Tim - and it gives me no pleasure to write this - but your post makes me feel as though the people running this site have run out of ideas and TTAC's days may be numbered.Cutbacks in automotive journalism are upsetting. But, until there is something exciting and fun to write about, they are going to continue. Perhaps automotive enthusiasm really was a 20th century phenomenon..
  • THX1136 I think that the good ole interwebs is at least partially to blame. When folks can get content for free, what is the motivation to pay to read? I'm guilty of this big time. Gotta pay to read!? Forget it! I'll go somewhere else or do without. And since a majority of folks have that portable PC disguised as a phone in their pocket, no need for print. The amount of info easily available is the other factor the web brings to bear. It's perhaps harder now to stand out. Standing out is necessary to continued success.In an industry I've been interested (and participated) in, the one magazine (Mix) I subscribed to has become a shadow of it's former self (200 pgs now down to 75). I like print for the reasons mentioned by another earlier. I can 'access' it in a non-linear fashion and it's easily portable for me. (Don't own a smarty pants phone and don't plan to at the moment.)I would agree with others: useful comparison reviews, unique content not easily available other places, occasional ringers (Baruth, Sajeev, et al) - it would be attractive to me anyway. I enjoy Corey, Matt and Murilee and hope they continue to contribute here.
  • Daniel J I wish auto journos would do more comparisons. They do some but many are just from notes from a previous review compared to a new review. I see where journos go out to a location and test drive and review a vehicle on location but that does absolutely nothing for me without any comparison to similar cars. I also wish more journos spent more time on seat comfort. I guess that doesn't matter much when many journos seem to be smaller folks where comfort isn't as important. Ergonomics are usually just glossed over unless there is something very specific about the ergonomics that tick the journo off. I honestly get more from most youtube reviews than I ever do about reviews written on a page.