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JULIAN THOMSON TAKES JAGUAR DESIGN INTO THE FUTURE

When you’re a car enthusiast who grew up always drawing cars, dream jobs don’t get much better than being named as design director at Jaguar. Julian Thomson is the man who has turned a childhood hobby into a career, and he spoke to Scott Collie, News Editor at Car Expert, in a video Q&A about his road to Jaguar and how he plans to move the iconic brand’s design language forward.

While schoolwork wasn’t Thomson’s strongest suit, it was after his drawings were noticed by an ex-designer at Rolls Royce that his career as a car designer began to take shape. A postgraduate degree at the Royal College of Art in London was followed by time as an intern at Ford, where he met the man who became his mentor and who he would one day succeed as Jaguar’s Design Director, Ian Callum.

After Ford, Thomson spent 11 years at Lotus where he led the design of the original Lotus Elise in 1996, and then worked briefly at Volkswagen’s concept design studio in Spain, before landing at Jaguar in 2000.

Collie points out that Thomson’s career history saw him working at companies where designs were overhauled during his tenure, noting the Elise was a significant car for Lotus at the time. Thomson says he recognised that brands can get stuck in a rut, become a victim of their own success, and they don’t always understand how to modernise their history and heritage. He was able to bring his experience of moving brands forward to Jaguar, and an important part of this process is going to back a brand’s roots.

When Thomson joined Jaguar, it had one of the best loyalty rates of any car manufacturer. People were passionate about their cars, but were holding onto them and Jaguar wasn’t attracting new customers. Thomson explains that Jaguar has a history as an innovative brand, from vehicles like the E-Type, D-Type and the original XJ6, and it has been his team’s job to make the brand more contemporary, and bring that spirit of inspiration and innovation back.

JAGUAR LEAPS FORWARD

After Thomson’s arrival at Jaguar, Collie points out that “there were a couple of leaps forward for Jaguar...and the XK, the XF, and the XJ in that period all wowed the world in different ways.” He goes on to ask how Thomson would characterise Jaguar’s design at the moment, “a significant departure from when you arrived at the company.”

Thomson feels that since 2000 Jaguar has got its energy and momentum back, which he finds very exciting. It has transformed from a small manufacturer with only a couple of vehicles to a large volume producer, and is now one of the fastest-growing luxury car brands. He says Jaguar has been trying to establish itself as a very credible, contemporary premium brand. Looking to the future, he’d like to make Jaguar cars more individual and “really turn up the wick on elements of Jaguar character, be it the beauty, the luxurious interiors, the sense of specialness.”

MORE JAGUAR THAN EVER BEFORE

New models will be developed to be even more Jaguar-like, “building our identity more strongly”. The new XJ will be a bigger beacon for future design, and it’s a car Thomson is “very excited about, because it’s more Jaguar than ever before. It really does put a stamp on what we’re trying to do in terms of our future direction.”

For a boy who once drew cars on his sketchbook, setting the direction of a luxury car brand with a new, modern flagship must be a real ‘pinch me’ moment. As custodian of the Jaguar design philosophy, Julian Thomson recognises his role as both a “tremendous task, and a tremendous honour.”