Jaguar’s chief designer for sports cars, Alister Whelan, says the brand’s 75-year-old heritage will live on, albeit reinterpreted for the 21st century
Jaguar broke its current design mould with the futuristic C-X75 and C-X16 ‘production concept’ revealed over the past 15 months, but the design DNA of the pair will carry through to the leaping cat’s future products.
These are the sentiments expressed by Alister Whelan, chief designer for Jaguar sports cars, during an exclusive interview with motoring.com.au at the recent Dubai motor show.
“The reason we do concept cars is to try things out – in terms of new surface language, design features, graphics and so forth – and I think you can see a little bit of C-X75 in the C-X16 that we showed at Frankfurt this year,” Whelan said. “There are elements of graphics and surface language that have translated through.
“The DNA behind both those cars should be the same for all Jaguars – things like the powerful grille and the very iconic, graphical shapes of the headlamps and taillights. Ian Callum (Jaguar design director) is a massive fan of pure, simple surfacing with minimal lines on the side of the car. He emphasises that we shouldn’t over-complicate our lines.
“We unveiled the C-X75 at last year’s Paris motor show and the philosophy behind the car was to celebrate 75 years of the brand and symbolise the future of Jaguar in terms of design and engineering – potentially for the next 75 years. That was our vision back then,” Whelan said.
“For Ian and the team, the goal was to come up with something that looks completely different to all the other supercars on the road. When you compare it with other supercars on the road, it has very different proportions. Ian’s very keen on the XJ13, and the classic proportions of that car. We wanted to take that and translate it for the 21st century.
“The C-X75 got a fantastic response from the press and we won the Autoweek car of the show at Paris,” Whelan enthused. “We announced in May this year that we would produce the car in limited numbers, so it’s been a bit of a fairytale really.”
Jaguar plans to build and sell 250 examples of the hybrid supercar from 2013 to 2015, each wearing a pricetag of $A1million-plus (ex-UK). For this spend, prospective owners will take delivery of a car that sprints from 0-100km/h in 3.4sec and reaches a top whack of 330km/h.
“The C-X75 was a great opportunity for us to do something that was completely out there. As per the exterior there are elements in the cabin that should translate throughout the Jaguar range,” the soft-spoken designer said. “Ian Callum has a favourite quote when it comes to the interior of a Jaguar: he says that when you step outside the car, you should always feel like you want to get back in. It’s that welcoming effect.
“With C-X75, the emphasis was on producing a very bespoke, luxurious, purposeful interior. Although it’s a supercar concept, we didn’t want a stripped-out racecar interior. It had to be very luxurious, have genuine, authentic materials, and be very easy to understand when you get in the car. All the controls should be very intuitive when you sit in a Jaguar.
“It’s the same in the C-X16, which has the latest installation of our driver-focused cockpits, so there’s a very enveloping cabin with a pod in front of the driver. Again, there’s an emphasis on the use of authentic materials… I think it would be disastrous for any car company to indicate that something’s metal when it’s actually plastic.
“Another thing we’re very keen on is that the real materials that we use should be made in a very authentic way,” Whelan asserts. “We talk about handcrafting leather – you can’t mould leather into lots of organic shapes. So we work closely with the guys that sew and craft the leather to understand what these materials do. It’s the same with metals… we need to know what goes into machining and forming them to make best use of them.
“Although the C-X16 has a range of lightweight, high-tech finishes – as we felt it was appropriate for that car – woodgrain will always be a part of Jaguar, as it has been for the past 60 or 70 years,” Whelan stresses. “Wood’s got that warmth that you can’t have in a metal in terms of the way it looks and feels. And as we’re seeing with a lot of furniture, wood can be extremely modern and how you create the wood – whether you machine it or sculpt it – can add to the modernity of it. For example, the structural element that runs around the back of the XJ’s dashboard for that lovely Riva boat effect is a very new way of doing things. So wood will always be there. I like wood.
Whelan adds: “With our current line-up we’ve essentially taken the essence of an XJ6’s cabin and recreated it in a very modern way. It might not mean you have a wooden fascia. The new XJ uses wood in a very different way… it has acres of wood on the doors and around the base of the dashboard and a very soft leather fascia.
“When you look at the way cars were produced in the old times, they had a big wooden fascia, but our cars now are safer than they’ve ever been because the airbags are in a prime position and the cabin is trimmed and tailored to best protect the occupants,” Whelan explains. “The XJ is a good example of preserving tradition even as safety regulations and production methods have changed.”
Jaguar earlier this year announced it was considering adding a sub-XF compact sedan to its line-up to capitalise on the high-volume segment, even though its last contender in the category – the Ford Mondeo-derived X-Type – was a sales flop.
“I’d probably rather not comment on X-Type!” Whelan said when probed on the subject. “However, I’d say that it’s essential for us to remain true to our brand values. We’ve now got the best line-up of products that we’ve had in a very long time. We need to be authentic to who we are… whether it’s down to using an authentic material or an authentic powertrain.
“You can tune the Jaguar DNA in a number of ways – the XF with its metal fascia probably lends itself more to a younger market, where the XJ is more traditional while still being contemporary – so it can be taken up or down within a range of cars,” he added. “It’s still early days for us (as far as a compact car is concerned). We’re looking at lots of different opportunities. The world is changing, and markets are changing.”