Ian Callum Talks Jaguar EVs and Supercars in New York
Ian Callum is a man who needs no introduction. The living legend has penned some of the most beautiful sports cars of the 21st century, including the Aston Martin DB9 and Jaguar F-Type. After a nearly 40 year career of designing traditional internal combustion engine-powered coupes, sedans, station wagons, and most recently, SUVs, the long-time Jaguar Director of Design has just seen his first ever electric car, the 2019 Jaguar I-Pace, enter production. We caught up with him at the New York International Auto Show to chat about the differences between designing gas and electric vehicles.
Ian Callum with Jaguar I-Pace Concept
Motor Trend: After a nearly 40-year period of designing internal combustion engine cars, how different was it to design your first EV?
Ian Callum: Completely different because we’ve got, from the wheels up, a completely free palette. In normal cars, you have engine’s bays, and gearboxes, whereas with the I-Pace, we could literally do what we wanted. Well, within reason. So, for first principles, we moved people around, put them in better places I think, and we built the car around it. It was an incredible sense of freedom really, that we’d never experienced before. It was a lot of fun.
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MT: Did you find it more or less challenging than a traditional internal combustion engined-car?
IC: I found it less challenging from a design and creative point of view. I found it more challenging in trying to get people to come with you and say, yes, we can make this fundamental change in how we’re proportioning and how we’re shaping the car. I don’t have a problem with that. You know, cars in the past, like E-Types, were shaped that way because of what was underneath them, so we had full right to go and change this [proportioning] because what was underneath had changed. But telling the story about it as you’re developing it is quite tricky, and then getting people to believe in it. But on the whole, I think, if you do something that looks good, people will buy it.
IC: No, never. It would be pointless really. The E-Type is the shape it was because of the geometry of the engine, the air box and wheels, and the aerodynamics. It might be slightly flawed, but that’s what drove the change. It’s the same with I-Pace. It’s the geometry underneath plus the aerodynamics [driving the design]. It’s a very logical car, actually.
MT: How challenging is it balancing aerodynamic efficiency with something like pedestrian impact regulations?
IC: It’s all challenging, but you just have to make some fundamental decisions of what is acceptable and what isn’t. Actually with the pedestrian impact of this car, it’s less of an issue because there’s no engine at the front and the biggest challenge with any pedestrian impact car is actually the mass of the engine at the front of the car.
MT: So removing the engine from the equation makes life easier?
IC: It makes it a lot easier, but we do have an inverter right at the bulk head, which takes up space so there’s an air bag there, at the top [of the cowl] so we get round it that way. I always believe the technology will come to your rescue on these things, and it has for other cars (other cars have airbags underneath the boot) to get past all that stuff.
There are other subtle things you have to be aware of. The shape of the front and impact areas—that all comes into play; it predetermines a lot of dimensions but you just work with them. You work with them to the best advantage, but yeah it’s challenging of course.
Aero is the same. We could have made the front end lower, but I felt the car looked a bit weak that way. We did have to have a radiator grille because there is [a radiator] there, but it’s not the full height. So if you look at the radiator grille, the air over the top goes right through the car to the hood, effectively reducing the frontal area of the car which helps the aero. That’s one of the reasons why it’s relatively low.
Then the roofline following the aero line, pulling the air to the roof, felt to me a very natural shape—the way it runs off the back. It gave me an excuse to give quite a coupe-y profile because if you cut it off then, you get to a whole different spillage of air in that situation. So with the roofline the way it is, it’s a clean line to the tail.
Then the square back is there to help aero. We questioned that a lot, because Jags don’t really have square backs. Well, they kind of do, the XJ has it, so does the XF, but we let the physics kind of determine the aesthetics and then try and make it beautiful.
MT: Is that squared-back something you had designed when first sketching out the I-Pace?
IC: Yes, because you just instinctively know what’s going to work. We knew we wouldn’t have a deployable spoiler on the car, so you kind of instinctively know where the back’s going to end up. I think what pleasantly surprised me was that we want the air to hold [the rear], and it kind of demanded much more rake in the back window and that was one of the things I took on board and redesigned. It has quite a slope-y back. Very un-SUV-like, but it works.
MT: This being your first EV, are there any lessons learned on the I-Pace that you would apply to your next?
IC: I think one thing we have learned is it works. For a company like Jaguar, which is steeped in a lot of history, you can still be quite radical and have people associate it as a Jaguar. I don’t believe it’s specific design shapes that give the car its history, I think it’s a value that gives the car its history and the value is still there.
I think I’m looking forward to the evolution of, not so much the design aspects of it, but more the engineering aspects [of EVs]. I know batteries have become smaller and more efficient, slimmer as well in time, and become less expensive, too. So I’m looking forward to that evolution of physics and chemistry so that we can take this to the next level.
One of the reasons that we did an SUV was because of the platform, we didn’t want to be contesting the height of the car, but when we get to lower cars, undoubtedly we will. That’s where we’re going to have a real learning curve, because we need to take some of the mass out of the bottom of the car to get people [sitting] lower. That’s going to be a challenge.
MT: Could the I-Pace’s platform underpin a car?
IC: It could, except the ride height is probably a little high. The sub-frames are based on the F-Pace, so you’d have to reengineer all that, so it’s kind of unlikely we’d use that as it is the car platform. The ride height is what it is. It would have to be reengineered, the front and back ends of it. The part in the middle that holds the batteries, sure, why not?
MT: Jaguar is traditionally a company that builds cars. If you applied your new EV design philosophy to Jag’s car line today, what would that look like?
IC: I kind of know what it looks like. I believe sedans should still look like sedans. The cab forward feel of the I-Pace has prevailed to a certain extent. We have to accommodate car crashing requirements becoming tougher, which is fine. I see that application moving down into cars without too much of a change of point of view, except they’d be lower and the posture would be different. In an SUV you tend to sit more upright, in a car all that stuff will revert back naturally to a car stance.
MT: So reading between the lines, this will be a Jaguar sedan that happens to be electric?
IC: I would like to think it would be a bit more special than that. I think you would expect to see something that doesn’t look like today’s cars now.
MT: Are there any EV-exclusive Jaguar design traits that we’ll see in newer electric cars?
IC: No, I think we developed the I-Pace’s shape because of the car that is underneath. We will continue to evolve our designs and our design language and we’ll see what comes out for each car, and how it needs to be.
We have a common front end at the moment, that’s a very deliberate ploy to try and give the car a family because we didn’t have a family before. From S-type and then XK, they all had different front ends. I made a point of getting a family face on the car. That will change in time but we’ll approach each car as individual entities. The details don’t matter. What matters is the fact that it has exciting proportions, whether it be cab forward or cab rearward, and that it has a very beautiful surfacing on it. These are the things that matter. They may evolve with different sort of vehicles. It’s about philosophy of design rather than specifics, if that makes sense.
If you look at Jags of history, they’re all very different. So in fact I feel more brave now to create that difference across the range than perhaps would have yesterday.
MT: You keep designing mid-engine supercars and it doesn’t seem like anyone will let you build one. Let’s say you were designing an electric Jaguar supercar—what would that car look like?
IC: It would look like C-X75. You see, the thing about a mid-engine car is you don’t have to put the batteries on the floor. Therefore, you could put them behind you. You could put them in the middle, which C-X75 intend to do. So you’ve got a lot of space behind you, where the engine would normally be. Your motor is a wee little thing that sits between the wheels, so you have a lot of space to put the battery somewhere else. The center of gravity is not quite as good because it’s not at the bottom, but you could compensate in some ways. But yeah, a bit like C-X75, but next generation on. That was eight years ago now…it’s a lovely car. It’s a bit of the shame. I’d love to do another one. We’re not planning to, but sometime I’m going doodle what the next one might look like.
MT: I was just looking across the booth at the new $200,000 Range Rover SV Coupe—do you think there’s room for a bespoke limited-run car similar to that in the Jaguar lineup?
IC: Of course! But I don’t run the company. In a heartbeat I would produce another supercar, definitely, but it’s not planned. We’ve got a lot to do. Logically as well, I hugely support the idea, but we’ve got to get the fundamentals right first. Once that’s sorted, then we can start to indulge. I’m sure one day we will.
MT: Anything we missed on I-Pace?
IC: I just have to emphasize, it’s one of the most exciting projects that we’ve ever worked on because it’s challenging. I like to challenge other people, but not through shock or vulgarity and I think a lot of people can’t do that. If you look around motor shows, there’s a lot of that difference created just through visual shock. I love to challenge the pre-conception of what a Jaguar might be. People misunderstand the brand quite a lot. But what this car does is, is establish us as a company that can do these things. It’s not that conventional. The issue I have with some people is, they see that front face, it’s got two headlamps and a grille and [they think] it probably looks like everything else. They’re not seeing the big picture. I think when they see it on the road, they’ll realize it’s different.
MT: We agree. It looks like it’s straight out of a Black Mirror episode. It’s really cool.
IC: Yes! We need to get it some movie placement. [To his assistant] We’ve got to get some placements for it. Who do we talk to? Is it marketing? PR should look after placements. Shouldn’t they?
MT: Well, thank you very much, Ian. Appreciate it.
IC: You’re welcome. Give my regards to your friends at Motor Trend.