Julian Thomson does not want to talk about SUVs.
A perfect world for the 58-year-old Brit, who replaced Ian Callum last June as Jaguar’s director of design, would include more sports cars and fewer trucks.
“I don’t know, it’s a mystery to me,” he said when asked why crossovers and SUVs have become so popular worldwide.
Thomson, who has been drawing cars since the age of 4, acknowledged that car design “is changing really, really fast,” but designers like himself and his team of 300 in Gaydon, U.K., “have a better fighting chance” of making a sports car more beautiful than an SUV.
Jaguar, which produced its first car in 1935, has shifted focus away from building the sports cars that once earned a legion of followers. Owned by India’s Tata Motors, the luxury brand has pegged its future on sport-utility vehicles and electrification.
Thomson, however, argued that sports cars can still be relevant in the age of SUVs and lift Jaguar Land Rover from its current financial struggles.
The company recently showed off the latest iteration of its F-TYPE, a two-seater sports car that underwent a face-lift for 2021. The newer model, available in three engine types (a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 3.0-liter supercharged V6 and a supercharged V8), now boasts more power, upgraded in-car technology and an updated grille and front bumper, among other cosmetic tweaks.
Eighty-two percent of current F-TYPE owners are men and the average age of an owner is 53, according to Jaguar.
ABC News recently sat down with Thomson to discuss why a $62,000 sports car could help to reverse Jaguar’s misfortunes.
How would you describe the new F-TYPE in three words?
Pure, beautiful and balanced.
What would you like to see in the next F-TYPE?
I would say more Jaguar. We’re a brand that really connects with the heart and really has a human side to it. I would like to make sure we do more of that really. We have to be different … even more to stand out. We’re never really going to do things that are outrageous or weird. We do things that are balanced and very beautiful. Very, very natural.
What’s the biggest challenge these days in designing a sports car?
Just getting to design sports cars. Unfortunately, there aren’t many of them in the world. The world is against them. Despite of [environmental and safety concerns] they do represent the ultimate dream of a car. They do represent you riding off into the sunset, they do represent that freedom. If the car is a reflection of the person, it reflects the most beautiful version of you. For a company like Jaguar, which is all about beautiful cars, the sports car always represents that pinnacle. That’s what distinguishes us as a brand — that’s the ultimate realization of beauty, power and innovation for us.
How do you get people to buy more sports cars?
I think you have to connect with young people. A lot of customers who buy them are more experienced drivers. They appreciate the history of them. You have to recreate that in the modern context for younger people. They’ve got to start believing in that dream of driving again.
How do you get women excited about sports cars?
You’re not interested in [setting lap times]. You just want the most beautiful, nicest thing to drive. You have to talk more about the experience of using the car and how you interact with it. We need to make sure it’s not a threatening thing, not a totally macho thing. A lot of designers on our team are female. They love sports cars. They don’t want to be associated with something that is so masculine. We have to think differently about how these cars appear.
You said car designers ought to put their money where their mouth is and buy the cars they design. Have you bought all of the cars you’ve designed?
No, I haven’t. Otherwise I’d have 40 or 50 cars. But I have bought a couple of them. It’s weird how you connect with a car. I’ve bought cars I’ve designed and sometimes you feel like you’re driving around in a sweater you’ve knitted yourself. You feel very self-conscious. Ideally, you design a car that fits with your life stage moment. You sympathize with that car. I designed the Lotus Elise when I was single. I was very limber, I could climb into anything … that car was perfect for my time. When I did the Land Rover LRX I had a couple of kids, I was still trying to be cool, and now I am very fond of the XJ [sedan] but maybe because it’s my stage in life [he laughs].
How do you get people excited again about sedans?
You’ve got to design beautiful sedans. Unfortunately, the sedan market is a difficult place. People buy a sedan because they want a rational product a lot of the time. They’re deliberately designed to be rational. We have to design sedans that you fall in love with.
What type of cars should be the focus for Jaguar?
Just more sports cars maybe. The world needs more sports cars.
What will be your mark on the company? How will you differentiate yourself from Ian Callum?
There’s as much of Ian as me in all the cars we’ve done so far. He’s handed over the baton to me, the responsibility, so that consistency is very, very important. Our focus the last few years is to add a lot of new models to the range. We’ve expanded and grown like no other car manufacturer has … new segments like electric cars and SUVs. A lot of it has been based around growth. I’d like to get us back to probably a more glamorous, romantic vision of Jaguar.
So less SUVs?
I still think SUVs can be exciting. But I want to get the balance back the other way. A bit more into sedans, a bit more into sports cars.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.