One thing we used to do—everyone around the world, that is—was drive.
Julian Thomson, who is now in charge of designing all of Jaguar’s cars, remembers fondly that feeling.
“When the world reconnects, I don't want some Uber thing to turn up at my door and take me around for a trip around the countryside. I want to get in and drive. I want to have an experience,” he says from his home in England.
The 59-year-old has a stable of cars begging for the open road: two Jaguars, both with supercharged V-8s; a Ferrari Dino; a Renault Clio 182 Trophy; a Honda Civic Type R; a Lotus Elise; and a modified Subaru Impreza.
Jaguar Vision Gran Turismo Coupe concept
“Every car wants to grow up to be a sports car,” he says.
Thomson is near the end of his first year as design director for Jaguar, the first year the brand has been without legendary designer Ian Callum. Thomson worked under Callum for nearly 20 years before taking the helm last September, the yin to Callum’s yang, according to Julian.
“I had 20 years working closely with Ian. He's a very good friend of mine, remains a good friend of mine. When you work as a little team like that we had a certain, I wouldn't say a tension…but to get that family to challenge each other backward and forwards is really, really tricky.”
Now, the team has a new design studio and new challenges. The upcoming electric XJ sedan is on the way, largely designed during Callum’s tenure although Thomson draws from current events to describe its look.
Teaser for electric Jaguar XJ due in 2020
“(The XJ is) all about serenity and calm and good health as well which, against the epidemic we're suffering at the moment, is incredibly relevant for the world going forward,” he says.
Part of that will be to move Jaguar toward a more elegant future, one that capitalizes on the brand’s iconic designs—the first XJ among them, Julian says—and pull them forward without running into retro kitsch.
Thomson admits that Jaguar went too far when he first started. The brand’s cars overcooked the historic look.
“We overplayed it,” he admits.
“We want a lot more of that romance, that emotional connection, that glamour attached to the brand. We want to bring that back again, not in a retro way, but I think we want to bring the specialness back to the Jaguar brand,” he says.
That won’t be in autonopods or far-flung concepts. It won’t be mobility appliances or brandalism.
“We'll have a level of autonomous cars for people who do want that, there'll be autonomous situations in traffic or highways but this interaction with the car, whatever way you do it, is really, really important. It's what I'm missing so much now. I just want to get out and drive a car,” he says. “(Drivers) want to very much enjoy the trip as much as the destination. I think we're well placed for that.”
2021 Jaguar F-Type first drive
Thomson was integral to the redesign for the 2021 F-Type and admits that while the two-door may be the most exciting in the Jaguar portfolio, it may not be the most practical. But it’s the one he points to where luxury cars, and Jaguar, may go.
“People dream when they buy our products. They're luxury products. That dream of the open road, and you may only experience it one or two times in the lifetime of the car, but that's what's keeping you attached to that product.
“Everything in the world is telling you (that) you can't drive them, the police are going to stop you, kids don't like driving, they use too much fuel...but still everyone keeps on making them. They represent the realization of freedom and driving and the ultimate utilization of those vehicles,” he says.
He practices what he preaches, too.
Thomson says that he should want to drive the car he’s designed—he owns at least four cars he’s designed and would buy the rest, except that’d be a lot of cars.
“I'm lucky that in my career I have worked on a lot of sports cars and a lot of cars which have become collectible, actually,” he says.
He plans on making more, but for now, it sounds like he’d be fine with just one: the one he could drive right now.