The first Jaguar car launched in September 1935, and since then the brand has created some of the most elegant, swift, and luxurious vehicles the world has ever seen. Now in its 84th year, the company is poised at a pivotal moment. Ian Callum—Jaguar’s director of design for the past 20 years—retired this past summer after passing the torch to Julian Thomson, who worked alongside Callum as creative design director for the past 18 years.
The industry is changing as well—automakers are pivoting towards mobility, autonomous vehicles are breaking new ground, and electric drivetrains are challenging the internal combustion engine. How does a classic automotive brand drive innovation and avoid resting on its laurels? Join Dwell on a wild ride through the past, present, and future of Jaguar.
The State of the Art
It’s a brisk fall day in the rain-streaked Midlands of England, and I’m sitting in the cockpit of Jaguar’s latest vehicle, the I-Pace. "Punch it," says the Jaguar rep beside me as the on-ramp light turns green—and I do exactly that. In 4.5 heart-racing seconds the I-Pace surges from zero to 60, and we fly down the highway towards Coventry.
SUVs aren’t supposed to be this fast—but the I-Pace isn’t a standard sport utility vehicle. For starters, it’s propelled by a 100% electric drivetrain with two motors that produce 394 horsepower. The complete lack of engine noise makes for an ethereal driving experience that’s quite peaceful—save for the pulse-pounding thrill of dropping 512 ft-lb of instant torque.
Although it’s technically a mid-sized SUV, the I-Pace looks and handles more like a coupe—it’s lower and leaner than the typical sport-ute, and its speed and nimble steering make it a joy to drive.
It’s also packed with cutting-edge features. In dynamic mode, the I-Pace’s suspension hugs the road; with the press of a button, it lifts for off-roading. A heads-up display integrated within the windshield shows speed limit data pulled from passing signs. Wireless updates keep the vehicle’s systems current, and artificial intelligence algorithms tailor the ride to each driver’s preferences.
In many ways, it’s the car of the future—a zero-emission vehicle that doesn’t compromise on performance, style, or utility—and the critics agree. So far, the I-Pace has scooped 62 international awards, including 2019 World Car of the Year, European Car of the Year, and World Green Car of the Year.
Designing the Future
The ideals and technology driving the I-Pace reflect Jaguar Land Rover’s commitment to Destination Zero—a companywide initiative targeting zero emissions, zero accidents, and zero congestion. Accordingly, all of Jaguar’s next-generation vehicles will offer electrified powertrain options—and they’ll be designed in one of the UK’s most sustainable buildings.
Located on a 4,000,000-square-meter site in Gaydon, the new JLR Advanced Product Creation Center is entirely powered by renewable sources, and it can meet up to 20% of its own electricity needs with roof-mounted photovoltaic panels. The facility holds 50,000 square meters of workspace, and it unites the Jaguar and Land Rover brands under the same roof.
Located within the center, the new Jaguar Design Studio is where the British brand develops the cars of tomorrow. Helmed by Julian Thomson, the world-class facility unites Jaguar’s entire design team—including 280 members spread over six disciplines—for the first time in history.
By working together in close proximity, the interior, exterior, color and materials, digitalization, visualization, and design technical teams can turn a sketch into a full-size clay model in just two weeks—and they can produce a finished car in about four years.
The process begins with a sketch—designers use pens, pencils, and tablets to produce hundreds of sketches each day, and the studio hosts an internal competition to select six to eight promising designs to proceed to the next stage. At this point, the digitalization team creates 3-D digital models of the winning sketches, which in turn direct robotic milling machines to quickly create clay models.
Clay modeling is essential to Jaguar’s design process, as it allows the studio to rapidly prototype new vehicle exteriors and interiors. The studio employs 46 sculptors, and it has 10 plates that can accommodate a total of 20 full-size clay models at the same time.
As the models are refined, they are constantly scanned by the computer-aided surfacing team to ensure that they meet engineering points and feasibility requirements set by the design technical team. Throughout the process, the visualization and animation team creates images and films that bring the concepts to life, and the color and materials team develops and selects finishes that define the look and feel of the completed vehicles.
Eventually, one design is selected as the "vision," and a new model is milled from resin and kitted out with grills, 3D-printed lights, mirrors, wheels, production-quality paint, and plexiglass windows. A more detailed aesthetic confirmation model is created next—at which point the clay modeling process ends. The final design step is the creation of a drivable model with a carbon fiber and glass fiber body, a fully trimmed interior, and working lights and displays.
Preserving the Past
Even as Jaguar develops the cars of tomorrow, it’s focused on preserving its legacy. Located near the company’s headquarters in Coventry, JLR Classic Works is a 14,000-square-meter facility dedicated to restoring vintage Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles.
JLR Classic Works does much more than simply service existing cars. An extensive library of schematics and a state-of-the art manufacturing workshop allows the facility to recreate parts from scratch to original specifications.
Using these parts, JLR Classic Works’ reborn program can restore vintage cars to factory-fresh condition—and their continuation program can completely recreate classic vehicles like the XKSS and D-Type from the ground up. (Due to regulations, continuation vehicles are meant for track and off-highway driving only.)
The facility also hosts a car collection that would make any gearhead’s jaw drop. In 2014, Jaguar acquired the world’s largest privately owned collection of British classic cars— 543 in total—from collector James Hull. Today, the collection spans the history of both the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, and includes scores of historic vehicles—including early Austin Seven Swallows, XK120s, E- and D-Types, and the C-X75 featured in the James Bond film Spectre.
"When people talk about Jaguar, the most common thing they say is ‘beautiful cars’—beautiful to look at, and beautiful to drive—and both things indicate a real emotional attachment to the car," design director Julian Thomson tells Dwell. "Even in the modern world, we still stand for something that’s hopefully a bit escapist, a bit special. People want things they can treasure—that are less throwaway and have some depth to them—and that’s part of what we do."
Travel, meals, and accommodations for this story provided by Jaguar Land Rover North America