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Friday, October 5, 2007

Design: A Conversation with Ian Callum

Ian Callum with his personal ride: a custom '32 Ford hot rod...

I was lucky enough to be present at an early preview look at Jaguar's new XF last night in the courtyard of an old New York City mansion on Madison Avenue. The XF looked brilliant in an icy blue tone and spoked 19-inch wheels. The first impression is a bit Lexus-like but this is rapidly dispelled by the thoughtful detailing and distinctive front end. Most impressive is the fantastic interior which is filled with special touches like the red glowing starter button that pulses with a "heartbeat", vents that swing to open upon start up, and a cool shifter that rises from the console.

I was able to chat with Jaguar's chief designer, the legendary Ian Callum, one on one about design and the future of Jaguar. Callum is a lean and gentlemanly Scotsman with intense blue eyes and a very dry sense of humor. When I approached him he was in the midst of telling a fellow journalist that the XF's hood was designed to accommodate retro-active fitment of the "leaping cat" mascot. At least I think he was kidding on that one. When asked what he wasn't allowed to do with the car, he averred that he would have liked to fit 22-inch wheels. "Why?" asked one man. Callum grinned and waved dismissively,"It's a boy's thing..."

Callum was very passionate about what he believes a design should embody. Showing me the gently undulating shoulderline of the XF he remarked on how difficult it can be to achieve simplicity. I remarked that like Chris Bangle at BMW, Jag was betting on forward-looking designs to make an impact in the market. Callum readily agreed but pointed out that he is a very different designer to bangle, whom he likes. "My designs are more about beauty while what he's done with BMW has been about shock." Indeed, though the XF is far from retro, there is a classicism about the design and the designer.

I asked him about the future of Jaguar and of current parent company Ford now that Jaguar and Range Rover are up for sale. Callum seems optimistic that whoever the new buyer turn out to be, they will embrace the design-led turnaround Jaguar has in mind and invest in the new products it so desperately needs. He says the Ford CEO Alan Mullaly's strategy seems to be to build Lincoln up into a global luxury brand. "It's a shame", he said ruefully, "They had (former Lincoln designer) Gerry McGovern there with a new design language for them in the late 90's and they just let it go."

Overall Callum seems excited by the future at Jaguar, and hinted at something "different" to replace the X-Type at a similar price point. He pointed out that small is a virtue in Europe and Jaguar would do well not to let that part of the market slip by. Small may also be a virtue in the luxury car market as lone-wolf BMW has shown. It will be exciting to see Callum's new design language for Jaguar spread out to the rest of the range.

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