A weekly look at all that sucks in the auto industry, and some good bits
Dumfries born Ian Callum CBE FRSE steps down from his 20 year post as Jaguar Cars chief designer. He was trained by the industrial design department of Glasgow’s School of Art. He took over Jaguar’s head of design when the company was on the way up earlier this century, bought from Ford by India’s conglomerate TATA. He leaves when it’s in a precarious position faced by falling sales, the move to electric cars, and Brexit.
The renowned designer has been instrumental in redeveloping the brand since joining the company, redefining its style language and contributing to the company’s global success. But you could argue the designs he’s seen into production are a mixed bag.
His saloons were welcomed into the modern age for their excellent dynamic performance, great handling and restrained interiors, particularly because the team had junked the gentleman’s smoking club of thick leather upholstered seats, burr walnut everything and quadruple chrome ashtrays. The phrase ‘cars for retired old buffers’ finally lost its punch attached to Callum’s XE, XF and XJ. But exterior-wise it was a different matter. None were exciting to look at. They looked bulky and bloated.
Prime minister and cabinet were seen entering and leaving the new saloons, (free to VIPs) but the cars looked anonymous, some comparing them to Japanese boring boxes. Famous for their grace, space and pace, Jaguars lost their traditional elegance entirely. A rise in sales was not sustained. To my mind, the lack of graceful lines is an opportunity lost, not helped by the adoption of the blandest grille from Jaguar ‘s heritage.
What Callum was good at doing was producing wonderful concepts. Alas, few got near production. Eventually the trend became a standing joke in the industry. Whether this failing was a financial decision, or loss of boldness, I do not know. You can’t keep wowing the public with great designs and ideas but never fulfilling the promise.
One of the finest examples was Keith Helfet’s 2000 redesign of an E-Type in the format of a Mazda MX5, back then named the F-Type concept. Jaguar – then owned by Ford – failed to capitalise on over 50,000 deposits received by dealers to make the car, spectacularly losing the chance to attract a youthful market with an exceptionally beautiful, compact inspirational roadster, a significant loss to company and motorists. Helfet left the company soon afterwards.
His team’s effort at creating a modern GT got a much better reception than his saloons. Cheaper than other grand touring sports cars, the muscular F-Type faltered on decent luggage space despite its tailgate door, and has been a slow seller ever since. In fact, as he leaves, Jaguar is revamping the GT line. Aficionados can expect an electric version.
Ironically, it is in the field of SUVs – a category least associated with sports cars – that Callum’s influence has had the greatest impact. All Jaguar’s SUVs have been strong sellers, and the innovative electric I-Pace version has won almost every motoring prize in the automotive calendar including World Car of the Year 2019.
When Callum joined Jaguar Land Rover in 1999, the company was in very different place. Under Ford ownership, Jaguar had been struggling with defining a contemporary identity as had its sister brand Land Rover. The new parent company Tata Motors though provided a great deal of creative freedom. And so, together with Land Rover’s Gerry McGovern, Callum set about to completely reshape the product family. Today, JLR cars strongly compete against products from the big German premium three – Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Callum formed a strong design studio with a diverse creative team.
“I came into this role with a mission to take Jaguar design back to where it deserved to be. Given the strength of both our products and the design team I feel now is the time to move on – both personally and professionally – and explore other design projects.”
Callum spent the first 12 years of his career at Ford design studios, and then chief designer of TWR Design responsible for the Aston Martin DB7, Vanquish and DB9. In 2005, he was awarded the Royal Designer for Industry from the Royal Society of Arts. In 2014 he received the Minerva Medal, the highest accolade bestowed by the Chartered Society of Designers, awarded for a lifetime’s achievement in design. In 2016 he was invited to deliver the MacMillan Memorial Lecture to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. He chose the subject “Car Design in the 21st Century“.
He will continue to work with Jaguar as a design consultant, whilst Julian Thomson, the current creative design director, takes over his role from 1 July. From his days attending Morrison’s Academy in Crieff and sending a sketch idea to Jaguar for a job, Callum leaves with all his dreams written into the company’s history books. I wish him well.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
In one of those hearty lunch moments when an idea seems good, it takes only the cold light of next morning to realise it’s actually crap. Fiat Chrysler and Renault’s expected announcement of a design and parts merger took less than a week to fall apart. Though both are European, the French and Italian aesthetic don’t quite match. In my experience the only thing the two have in common is a preponderance to produce cars with iffy electrics. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has a highly profitable North American trucks and Jeep brand, but it has been losing money in Europe, where it also struggles to keep pace with looming curbs on carbon dioxide emissions. Renault is an electric-car pioneer with relatively fuel-efficient engine technologies and a strong presence in emerging markets, but no US business. A joint venture seemed logical, but Renault would have been propping up Fiat for a long time before it saw a return on its investment.
Super-bright car headlights may help you see the road, but are they also blinding oncoming drivers? According to the RAC, fully 91 percent of us think some car lighting is too bright. Light technology has evolved hugely over the past 20 to 30 years, and it’s fair to say the regulations have struggled to keep up. It’s well established that light from light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is generally more crisp and intense. The way they switch on is rapid and dramatic, given they don’t use filaments. Likewise, the cut-off is sharp and precise. So why might a regulated and homologated LED, or indeed a xenon light unit, dazzle us on the road? While lights conform to present standards, more efficient LED technology may require a regulatory rethink. Indeed, 84 percent think the government should look at legislation. Given the UN Economic Commission for Europe is looking into how lighting regulations need to change, expect an update soon. Either way, drivers, please check your lights, if off line, get them adjusted!
They’re still at it! Both amusing and annoying to hear so many contenders for Tory glory state with absolute certainty that car makers will not abandon Britain – they mean England – because we buy so many foreign cars, and then repeating the lie as Ford announces closures, Honda, Jaguar-Land Rover, and so on, and so forth. And no car manufacturer is announcing expansion in the UK or moving production to the UK. When so abysmally wrong in predictions, who in their right mind thinks any of the Tory Ten will make a great prime minister?