Ian Callum Wants to Make an Electric Jaguar Supercar With Mid-Engine Proportions
The Jaguar design boss talks about electric cars, the future of sedans and his favorite Jaguar XJ at the Paris Motor Show
OCT 5, 2018
Jaguar drove a whole fleet of XJs from Coventry to the Paris Motor Show to celebrate the luxury sedan's 50th anniversary. At Paris, the Jaguar stand also had Sir William Lyon's personal XJ on display, a 1968 XJ6 Series 1 4.2 Saloon in Sable with a cinnamon interior. Back in those days, the 245 horsepower XJ was advertised as a 124-mph car, and Jaguar sold 98,527 of them by 1973.
Today, the current generation XJ might be getting a bit long in the tooth, but Jaguar is just about ready with its replacement.
At the 2018 Paris Motor Show, I bumped into Jaguar design head Ian Callum to talk sedans, sports cars, and the electric supercar that's in his head.
Road & Track: What were you driving in the anniversary convoy?
Ian Callum: A Series 3, a 1983 Daimler Sovereign. But it broke down. The only car in the whole trip that broke down was my car. The alternator went. We tried to jump start in a few times, but we gave up. It happens.
R&T: Looking back on 50 years now, which is your favorite XJ generation?
IC: The first one and the last one (laughing). I fell in love with the first one when it came out, and I thought it’s a fabulous car. It was very modern, very dramatic. You know, when you consider the other cars around that time, they were very conservative. This car wasn’t. It’s traditional in its details, but its proportions were amazing. The wheels were huge! All those Mercedes sedans and BMWs had those little wheels. The Jaguar had big wheels, and that’s when I kind of learned about the proportions of a car. How important it is. So, that’s really one of my favorites. I have a Series II at home, a coupé, which I think is a beautiful one. That’s probably my favorite of all of them. I know it’s a Series II, but a two-door. I have big, 18-inch wheels on it.
And then, I really like the last one that we did (2009), because it breaks the mold. I don’t think the XJ should have gone through all the traditional design phases it did. I think it should have been more revolutionary each time. And I think the reason was that William Lyons just wasn’t there anymore. The Coupé was the last car he actually influenced, and it was one of his favorites, by the way.
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I think afterwards, the custodians of the brand just repeated the same story. He would not have done that. He would have been more revolutionary, so it was important for me to be revolutionary with the change for what we have today. But that car is eight years old now, you know. And it still looks okay. That’s important. A Jag should always look good. Even when it’s old. I still love today’s car. We had an XJR575 on the drive here, and I was watching it on the road, and it really made me want to buy one. If I can get the right price (laughing). It’s a lovely car.
R&T: Does that mean we should expect to see a huge step forward for the upcoming next generation?
IC: Yeah… a step forward!
R&T: You know, that’s what BMW says about the new 3-Series...
IC: Oh, do they? Well, I won’t say too much, but it will be a bigger step than that! Theirs is a little step, so a little bit bigger than that!
R&T: XJ sales are slow, and manufacturers often talk about the challenges of selling a sedan. Why do you think people are turning away from this traditional body style?
IC: I don’t think they are! It’s complicated, really. The most successful XJ was actually the XJ40 (1986). We were selling 45,000 a year. I mean, that was healthy stuff. And I was trying to explain this to my bosses: the reason it happened was that it found a really particular niche market. It wasn’t a big car. Much smaller than the competitors, and certainly a lot smaller than a lot of American cars. And our biggest customer was the US, and most in the US were women. And a lot of women bought them because they liked the size of it. You still got the luxury, you still got the room, but they liked the fact that it was a little smaller than everything else. Of course in time, the car grew into the F-segment. Sometimes I wonder, was that the right answer? I don’t know, but I’d prefer it to be smaller. But there are aspects people insist on, like the legroom and headroom, all that boring stuff that we have to hear too. So the car grew, and it grew to the size of a natural F-segment car, because that’s what the marketing people have been measuring. Other F-segment cars.
And the [sales] volume of this XJ? It has never been huge. It was in the 20,000s at one point, and it went down to below 10,000 worldwide I think, but it is eight years old now. It’s still the best to drive though, of all the F-segment cars. But it is eight years old, and I think the age has a lot to do with it. Interestingly enough, the sedan market is still as big as the SUV market, it’s fifty-fifty around the world. It is skewed towards Asia. They do prefer sedans, and we can’t ignore that. But the western world is definitely heading towards SUVs. People are fickle. I think there may be a risk that people will grow up with SUVs, but there will be a generation beyond millennials that will not want SUVs. I think they will want sedans again. I think it might move back, and so we have to be prepared. People are moving towards SUVs because they are more practical. And people like to sit high, like to have a dominating view of the world. And you know, when you drive a Range Rover for the first time, you do feel very special. You’re the king of the country. But I’m not convinced it will be forever. I think people will be back to sedans, and station wagons as well. I hope!
We have facelifts of the XE and XF coming out relatively soon, and that makes a big difference. We really sorted the interior out. It’s a really good interior, and I think that’s one of the weaknesses of the current XE. But we have to get the communication out there. As for the next XJ, it has to be beautiful, sporty, sleek, it has to be a drivers’ car. The design has to signify the message of a sports car. It’s not just a three-box sedan. It’s something people wanna get into and drive. And that has to be a message of its shape.
R&T: The new F-Type is on its way. Rumor says it’s going to be a hybrid. But if you had no packaging constraints, what sort of a sports car would you design?
IC: This is not necessarily the plan. There’s not a plan, to be honest with you. But we went through a great big debate about it. The all-new F-Type, what it should be, and so on. I would like to do a mid-engine-style electric car, I think that would be the ultimate for me. Like a C-X75 [the concept car shown at the top of this page]. You know, mid-cabin, mid-engined proportions, but electric. I think that would be a phenomenal car. And it’s in my head, and you know, probably a few scribbles here and there. But we haven’t committed to that, and we may not do that in time for me the see that through, unfortunately (laughing).
But regarding the technology, with the momentum of electric cars, and the companies working on it, I don’t think you're gonna get a breakthrough, but a very steady incremental rise in performance and range. The real challenge is charging time. Range becomes less significant at 300-plus miles, but you need to get your charging time down to 15 minutes. It will happen. And the weight is another challenge. But what’s interesting about the I-Pace is that I drove it on a Scottish road. A beautiful road I know very well. And with the I-Pace, you can put it through corners, and by the time you’re in the middle of it, you’re very aware of its weight. But you’re not worried about it. You become aware of it, because the momentum starts to take the car. You feel the forces going sideways. So, perhaps you need to enter corners slightly slower, but you can come out much quicker. That’s the secret. The moment you’re on the apex, and you put the throttle down, my goodness, it’s like a slingshot! It’s the future, and it’s quite exciting, but of course the big question for us is, do we do another mechanical sports car? The last hurrah, you know? Or do we just switch?
For the F-Type replacement, we have various projects going on. Experiments. We’ll see. But what I can tell you is that interiors are gonna take on a whole new level. Our interior design in the studio at the moment is fantastic. I’m really, really pleased with it. We have a guy called Alister Whelan who’s taking over the interior design, and is really focused on us moving forward. It’s very exciting, so the next cars in the next few years will be quite a bit different.