There aren't that many great British car designers, but Ian Callum is definitely one of them. Born in Scotland in 1954, he's created some of the best-looking cars to come from the empire of overcooked vegetables since the E-Type.
And it's not completely coincidental that he's wound up at the same company. He knew from an early age where his style would belong. He has since taken a marque that floundered among pastiche designs of what was generally considered "Jaguar-ness" and sent it in a whole new direction, simultaneously proud of its past but also looking ahead.
We caught up with Callum as the second generation of Jaguar XF made its world debut. At car shows, we're always thinking about the future. And designers are always working with the future. Which brings us to the first problem involving a car maker whose products are so inextricably linked with the joy of driving.
EC: Would you please give us your thoughts on where car design is going as we move into the age of autonomous cars?
The answer is I don't know. Mercedes-Benz has already built an autonomous car that looks more like a mobile living room. Perhaps that's the way it's going to go. But it will happen in stages. In the first generation of autonomous cars, you'll be able to choose whether to drive it or not, so the layout will still be very conventional.
But once cars become 100-percent autonomous, they become capsules, more or less. I suppose we'll be creating mobile living rooms. People will just get in and the car will shuttle them off. I struggle personally as to where the emotional value of that vehicle will be if you don't drive it. Because I think that connection with driving a vehicle and owning a vehicle and admiring it is very important.
It's inevitable autonomous vehicles will happen. When we get into full autonomous cars, I don't think I'll be designing cars by then, so I'm not thinking too much about it. But the Mercedes-Benz one is interesting in that it does try to address the notion that this is a mobile office or living room rather than something that's actually dynamic to drive.
Do I like the idea of autonomous cars? Not entirely. It doesn't fill my spirit with glee, I have to say. But I drive to London a lot and there times when I'm driving back home after a long day and it's a pretty tedious two-hour drive to the Midlands. I think it would be nice to sit back and let the car do the driving for me.
Although there will be other things that change the shape of cars before autonomous systems. Electric vehicles have a completely different layout. We've been investigating this ourselves. You have a small engine in the front, so you don't need such a long bonnet (hood). You need other things in the front, of course, to get through crash tests and stuff, but the layout changes, at least mechanically.
EC: Assuming autonomous cars will actually work, then there will be a point where there won't be any crashes and no need for crumple zones.
I haven't got my head around that yet. If you could guarantee zero impacts, then the whole aspect of safety in the car would be quite different. But the idea of taking out all safety factors because of no crashes is never going to happen. You'll find it will still be statutory, just in case.
EC: It could allow designers to create something from a purely aerodynamic point of view, which would be especially important for electric vehicles. Presumably there's just one optimum aerodynamic shape.
There probably is. But the one thing you must remember — the one constant that determines the shape of a car more than anything else is the human being. That's why the windows are at the top and there's room underneath for your feet when people sit down. So if you take the package of two, four or five adults sitting low, that factor will never change. I don't think we'll be seeing the day where we'll be lying down in the car. Or maybe we might do that, if it's autonomous.
EC: When you spoke about mobile living rooms, I suddenly thought that some brands, like Kia maybe, would be like Ikea and Jaguar would be more like an upscale furniture store.
The whole mode of transportation is changing. Urbanization is changing people's habits. Young people in cities are not necessarily buying cars any more. And so what we're now investigating is mobility, how people need and want to travel, and give them choice. But we're a luxury brand, so we have to make sure our customers, who may decide to buy a Jaguar or a Land Rover, are looked after in their mode of transport, whatever they choose that to be.
And that could be a spectrum effect. The thing that will make a difference is connectivity. In the future, there'll be an app on my phone, maybe it's a Jaguar app or a Range Rover app. I'll say, "I want to go to London, what's the best option?" and it will give me five options. It could tell me to get the train and Jaguar will pick me up at the other end. The point is it's a luxury product and we'll be going through different stages of mobility. This will be coming. So the service of all this becomes all the more important, which we're very aware of. How people address it has to be at a luxury level. It's fascinating.
EC: Changing the subject to the relationship of color and shape, in this case in the new second-generation XF. One of the paint options is a nice dark metallic chestnut. How do you feel about brown cars?
It's what we'd rather call a warm grey. Brown colors come and go. In the '60s they were quite popular and actually about 10, 15 years ago — especially in the German market — people were buying brown cars. But there are fashions in colors. White is number one again at the moment. It's the biggest-selling color we've got. Ten years ago, you couldn't sell a white car. Red is coming back again too.
I notice this when I fly into airports — I look at the parking lots below and I can tell exactly how the colors work in a particular country. I remember when I was living in Italy, flying into Turin and every car was grey. Flying into London, half the cars were red. Interesting, isn't it? People would ask "why?" I say it's because we live in a grey climate, we want bright-colored cars. In fact, the British buy the brightest-colored cars of just about anybody. And more convertibles are sold in Britain than any other European country. I think it's because we relish that one moment of brightness. There's definitely a psychology of colors. Brown is tipping into its full potential within the next few years.
EC: One last thing. Would you say you've found your spiritual home at Jaguar?
Oh, absolutely. Yes. You know, I wrote to Jaguar at the age of 14 because I wanted to be a car designer. Jaguar lost its way and I got frustrated by it. I joined Ford. Then there was a lot of work for Aston Martin. And then one day I got a call to come and join Jaguar. I didn't even apply for the job. I thought, "Wow. Really?" I was quite nervous about it.
I understand the brand and that's why I felt equipped and knowledgeable enough to change it. And that was important. I think somebody who didn't understand wouldn't have that essence of what it stood for back in 1961 or 1965. I do. I really do. And I had to do quite a hard selling job to do what we've done. But we now have the second-generation XF. And it's a Jag. I know it's a Jag. I can see it. It has all the elements, all the values of a mark two. You become what you create.