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Jaguar Design Chief Julian Thomson Has Big Shoes to Fill

Brett Berk
Photo credit: ROBYN BECK - Getty Images

From Car and Driver

In the wake of the departure of Ian Callum, Julian Thomson has recently taken over as director of design for the Jaguar brand. Thomson has been with the brand since 2000, most recently in the position of director of advanced design, where he worked on exploring the strategic design directions the marque's vehicles would take a generation or two out. It seems as though this skill will serve him well, as this is a key transitional moment for the carmaker, as it confronts a rapidly changing car market, and approaches its 100th anniversary (William Lyons founded the company in 1922 as a manufacturer of motorcycle sidecars under the name Swallow Sidecars.)

Callum is one of the most highly respected, and beloved, designers working in the industry, having overseen the brand's relaunch under ownership by Tata in the 21st century. He is also responsible for much of the look of modern-day Aston Martins, having penned the DB7, DB9, and previous-generation Vanquish. So Thomson has big shoes to fill in the British motoring world.

Photo credit: Jaguar

"There've only been two Jaguar design directors before me, so that's quite intimidating in itself," says Thomson. "But I've been with Jaguar for 20 years. I've always been Ian's number two, so every car we've done in his time there started with me and advanced design. I wouldn't have taken on this job if I didn't think I could do it better myself."

Looking forward is very important at this point in the auto industry, as we move toward electrification and additional driver assistance technologies that will allegedly one day allow cars to drive themselves. This has been an interesting challenge for Jaguar, a brand that was up until recently very much rooted in history and its own heritage. As a smaller, niche player in the luxury-car market dominated by the Germans, Jag has recently been willing to take bigger risks designwise—witness the extreme cab-forward proportions of the engine-free I-Pace electric crossover, contrasted with the very traditional SUV shapes of the Mercedes EQ and Audi e-tron vehicles. But it has not exactly been rewarded in the marketplace.

“People expect us to be different. They come to us, they come into a Jaguar showroom, when they're bored with whatever else is out there. Our competitors' products are great. But they come to us when they want something more discerning, with more taste, something more human and grounded in artistry and spontaneity. Our legacy is full of that," says Thomson. So instead of becoming more staid, he says, "I think I'd go further in the opposite direction."

Jaguar, like many brands, has shown some fabulous supercar concepts earlier this decade—including ones that haven't really come to fruition, like the stellar C-X75 pictured at the top of this story. But we haven't seen much of anything in the way of concepts from the leaping-cat brand in recent years, leading us to wonder if it is time for a new passel of concepts to show off Thomson's plans for the brand.

"I'd love to do another concept. But to do one just because I'm the new guy on the block is the wrong time, the wrong reason," Thomson claims. That said, he adds, "I'd love to do a sports car. As a designer, they're your opportunity to go further with proportion, to compromise more things for the sake of aesthetics."

But first, it's on to electric cars. "We've said that our new XJ will be electric only. And in the flagship limousine world where XJ plays, its all about comfort, serenity, refinement, and effortless power. And all of those are characteristics that electric cars deliver in spades." We will look forward to seeing his interpretation of that concept soon.

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