Wednesday, November 30, 2022



Mercedes-Benz has become the latest company to join a trend that many drivers despise:

Charging people to unlock features in vehicles they have ordered.


The company is offering an "Acceleration Increase" subscription service that will—for $1,200 a year—allow some of its vehicles to accelerate from 0 to 60mph one second faster, the BBC reports.


The company says drivers of electric Mercedes-EQ vehicles who sign up for the program will have the motor's output boosted, reports Gizmodo. "Electronically increasing the motor’s output also increases the torque significantly," giving you "acceleration power you can feel," Mercedes says on its website.

Car manufacturers have turned to updates and subscriptions as a way to keep money coming in as sales of new cars decline—but while the strategy makes sense with options like premium navigation features, Mercedes' acceleration subscription suggests it "intentionally limited performance to later sell as an optional extra," Jess Weatherbed writes at the Verge.


Weatherbed calls it part of a "loathsome" trend. Jack McKeown, president of the Association of Scottish Motoring Writers, tells the BBC that the Mercedes plan is "unsurprising, but dispiriting" and he hopes there's a consumer backlash against this kind of subscription.

Mercedes isn't the first automaker to offer a controversial subscription service:

In July, BMW offered drivers in countries including the UK and South Korea the option of turning on heated seats and/or steering wheels for around $30 a month for both. How about a charge for using Apple CarPlay at $450 pa?

In December last year, Toyota said the remote start function was being removed from key fobs and replaced with an $8-per-month subscription option, CNET reports. 



Sunday, November 27, 2022


If, as I fear, Jaguar really has been shown to a table in the ‘Last Chance Saloon’ then it’s worthwhile taking you back in time, to a number of instances where I think the final proof-reading of Jaguar’s death warrant was ready for the printers.


It’s 1999, and Ford has owned Jaguar for ten years. Jaguar was in deep crap when Ford took over, and some very experienced and skilled Ford executives put their heart and soul into ‘saving’ Jaguar – most notably Bill Hayden, Nick Scheele and Jim Padilla.

Their combined efforts revitalised Jaguar bringing about massive quality improvements, and refining the many processes needed to create, design and make great cars.

So, back to the 1989 acquisition of Jaguar by Ford. It could well be described as hostile takeover, because Ford CEO Alex Trotman pursued Jaguar ruthlessly, even (so it's reported around Westminster) convincing the Secretary of State for Trade & Industry, the highly conservative Nicholas Ridley, to end Jaguar's 'Golden Share' protection from takeover.

Once that happened Jaguar's fate was sealed. It would be owned by Ford - like it or not.


A whole series of acquisitions followed, starting in 1991. Ford took full control over Aston Martin (which was also in deep crap), then in 1999 Ford pulled Lincoln out of the Ford North America division, and along with Land Rover (which it had bought from BMW in 2000), plus Volvo (which it had acquired in early 1999) and then Jaguar, leading to Ford creating the PREMIER AUTOMOTIVE GROUP (PAG) –  rolling a truly upmarket collection of impressive brands into one high end division.

Although, as I said, some key Ford executives saw Jaguar reborn as a proper car company there had been some behind-the-scenes moves which did not help Jaguar, and I will discuss those later.


So how did Jaguar find itself a victim of Ford - its saviour? A short timeline will be helpful.

In 1984 John Egan led a successful IPO freeing Jaguar from the interference and indifference shown by BL.

In 1985, newly-privatised, it opened a new Engineering Centre in Whitley, near its Browns Lane HQ.

The most important post-Lyons Jaguar, the XJ40 was launched in 1986, but the rapid increase in production and sales revealed quality problems which caused a lot of anger from Jaguar's powerful US dealers, and this, together with a slow down in demand savaged Jaguar's previously healthy revenue flows. By 1988-1989 these issues were concerning Egan and his Board. 

Jaguar was then, in 1989, again in a weakened state, due to the aforementioned drop in demand, quality problems, and foreign exchange losses. That's when Ford swooped.


Reading John Egan's book 'Saving Jaguar' reveals that whilst (initially) the efforts of Hayden, Scheele and Padilla boosted quality and sales, Ford's management was not really the saviour of Coventry's biggest employer.

The nails for Jaguar’s coffin were already being forged after Ford’s decision to hire ex-BMW executive Wolfgang Reitzle to run PAG.

Reitzle had been fired by BMW AG’s Board in 1989, and Ford’s COO Jac Nasser figured he would be just the guy to run the new upmarket division. I seriously believe that there are no standard door frames which would allow Reitzle to get his giant ego through.

He should be admired for the string of successful BMWs he was responsible for as the number two executive in Munich, but he really does have a huge opinion of his own worth.

Ford got a taste of that on Day One, when he entered the PAG office building in Berkeley Square in London, and demanded the ceiling lights in the foyer be replaced by a chandelier (which ended up costing almost £1 million to buy and install)!

Incidentally, Reitzle spent a total of £5 million on the London offices, which Ford had to spend again to restore the rented premises back to their original state!


Reitzle’s PAG marriage lasted just three years, ending in 2002, but in that time Reitzle revealed just how little he thought of British managers, because he terminated many of Jaguar's ‘old hands’ who knew the Jaguar company and the product lines backwards. Most of the key jobs went to Land Rover or Range Rover managers – who were mostly all ex-Rover Group. Many of whom were failed German managers from the period when Land Rover was owned by BMW.


Those Land Rover managers soon made short work of getting rid of the few remaining Jaguar brand people.

After Reitzle departed Berkeley Square, a Ford 'career ladder-climber' called Mark Fields headed PAG, and during his tenure he basically ignored Jaguar. Fields was ONLY interested in anything that could help him become Ford CEO. Jaguar suffered almost complete isolation from responsible and investment-led management.

When ex-Boeing chief, Alan Mulally, was hired as Ford's CEO and President in 2006 he began dismantling PAG and selling off all the luxury marques. 

This decision by Mulally ultimately helped Jaguar recover and provided yet another chance of 'survival'. That was because  in 2008 Ratan Tata bought Jaguar and Land Rover in an all-cash transaction of USD$2.3 billion from Ford in June of that year. Which was about half of what Ford Motor paid to acquire both brands.


It’s been revealed to me by an impeccable source, who was an eye-witness to these hugely significant changes to Britain’s largest car and SUV producer, that at the time of Tata’s acquisition of JLR, Sir Ratan Tata tried to talk Wolfgang Reitzle into returning to run the companies, but Reitzle declined.

Instead, he advised Mr. Tata to hire a former German BMW colleague named Ralf Speth. Speth has been described to me as ‘Reitzle’s bagman’ – moving with him from BMW, to PAG (briefly), and then to the giant European industrial gases and engineering firm, Linde. Which is where Reitzle went after leaving PAG.


A friend who used to work at Jaguar, but moved to a new job on the tarmac at Birmingham airport’s executive jet centre, told me that on several occasions during the first months of Tata ownership, Reitzle arrived in the Linde corporate jet, and a Jaguar was waiting to take him to Jaguar HQ at Gaydon.

This was also at the time when Ralf Speth was booting as many British staff as possible, and hiring newcomers. It’s probably true to say that between them Reitzle and Speth continued the dismissals Reitzle had started when he joined PAG in 1999.

Given the close relationship between Reitzle and Speth, it wouldn’t surprise me if Reitzle  (who remember wasn’t employed by Tata), operated Speth with his hand up his back.


One of the first things Speth advised Tata to do was pull Land Rover and Jaguar together for financial synergy, thereby creating Jaguar Land Rover. There’s no doubt there were many synergies which could be exploited, and although both companies employed the brand new Ingenium petrol and diesel engines, there was no platform sharing. Neither was the any real attempt to put a cap on overheads, and cost control.

It makes me think that these smart arses in tailored suits do not know their 'real' history of Jaguar. Jaguar, traditionally, is a financially weak company. It always was, even when it was profitable. It never had strong financial foundations. The name is worth squillions; the potential is fantastic - but only to a degree.

It is possible to over-invest in Jaguar, because migrating a huge number of people from other luxury and premium marques is well nigh impossible. Whilst the brand is well known, and much loved by many, owning a Jaguar is just not for everyone.

There was a moment when that situation changed, but sadly, the outcome meant the end of Jaguar saloons with grace, pace and space - it was a whole other ballgame.

By 2012 the remaining fertile brains inside the Jaguar product planning division could see that Jaguar needed to expand into the rapidly-growing premium SUV segment, and it was Jaguar’s Director of Design, Ian Callum, who produced the stunning C-X17 concept car which debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2013.

That ‘reveal’ was followed by appearances at the Dubai and Guangzhou auto shows in November 2013. 

Then, a red (almost production spec) version appeared at the Brussel’s Motor Show in January 2014.

The concept was very well-received and just 12 months later Jaguar launched the F-Pace at the 2015 North American International Auto Show. From that moment confusion reigned in the minds of Jaguar enthusiasts all over the world! What’s happening here? 

Our favourite British car company has gone to ‘dark side’ and produced a car surely nobody will buy?

The rest is history. The sales statistics that I’ve checked in Jaguar’s global markets, show the F-Pace, E-Pace and i-Pace quickly became the biggest sellers in Jaguar’s range. Sales of the XE and XF sedans have now slowed to just a dribble of cars, and of course the bigger, beautiful, XJ sedan is no more.

The F-type roadster and coupe did okay, but just 'okay'.

So, what’s left for Jaguar now? This is the most critical time for Jaguar in my 45 year association with the brand, and having served for almost 20 years directly helping to sustain Jaguar’s survival, I truly think it’s currently on life support, with death impending.

I'm certain Sir Ratan Tata, and the man who replaced him, Nataragan Chandraserekan (right), are now very busy attempting to ascertain exactly how to salvage one of Britain's most famous and much-loved car brands, before it sinks without a trace!


Who is responsible for this tragic situation when one of the most famous, and best-loved brands in the world faces an ignominious failure to survive? Well, I can tell you.


Since Sir John Egan stepped down after the sale to Ford, Jaguar’s turbulent history has become even more so thanks to a revolving door of management,  bad management decisions, and leaders with lack of vision, lack of emotional engagement with the romance of the marque, and failing to recognise that the one thing that has always sustained Jaguar is the residual affection ‘car people’ have for Sir William Lyons’ vision, energy, astute management and his brilliance at understanding his customers. And, especially the cars he launched.


Today, the Jaguar company lacks every single one of those attributes.


Interestingly, even Reitzle himself once admitted to a Jaguar Board member that: “Jaguar is like Ferrari, and just wouldn't work when combined with another brand!”


In a telling final quote, I will relay something Sir John Egan confided to me, after I told him I had read his book ‘SAVING JAGUAR’:  “John, Great to hear from you!   Glad you enjoyed the book, I now wonder how I could have had the courage to keep going against all those odds. I kept telling Ford from the start that they would never learn how to run a luxury car company.  Of course, they had no intention of ever doing that.”


PS: (and this is the "I told you so, moment.")

Dateline: London, November 26, 2022 - Jaguar Land Rover is cutting production at its UK factories until Spring 2023, in a sign of its continuing struggle to source semi-conductors amid the global shortage.

This is code for, JLR can't afford to make any more vehicles than it can sell, and it already has a glut of unsold vehicles in the UK and global markets. In fact production of F-Pace will end, allowing more capacity for Land Rover SUVs; no more sedans or sports cars will be made; and you might as well forget about E-Pace.

Dear Reader, you'll have to wait until March 2023 to hear the next 'lame' explanation about hopes for JLR's (and mostly Jaguar's) survival.

Friday, November 25, 2022


Thierry Bolloré’s decision to resign after only two years in the top job is a devastating blow to Jaguar Land Rover, and one I fear that could significantly jeopardise Jaguar’s survival.

Jaguar has clung on and survived so many dramatic threats since Sir William Lyons retired it will fill business trends analyses for years. 

That survival story has been written, and re-written many times, and I have been witness to it all.


JLR is sitting on a precipice which could collapse beneath it, because all the major support systems car manufacturers depend on are slipping out of the company’s grasp – and whether Bolloré was the right man for the job, or not, matters little now.


In this post I will be confining my comments to Jaguar’s future.

Once the interim CEO, Adrian Mardell, who is also JLR’s CFO, gets into the CEO’s chair he will have to make decisions fast. The problem is that in the car industry it’s very hard to activate anything ‘immediately’, because there is a huge time lag between the idea and the execution. As you can imagine, there is no such thing in the car industry as things ‘happening overnight’ – that is, except firings, resignations and appointments.

So before delving into JLR’s myriad problems, let’s look at this resignation. First, let’s look at Thierry Bolloré. The recruitment process to replace the previous CEO Sir Ralf Speth, took six months, and many in the car industry were very surprised when Bolloré was appointed – given that after serving only nine months as CEO of Renault, he was unceremoniously dumped. 

There are all sorts of reasons given, but one thing is clear, he is a very ‘prickly’ character. His brain is as sharp as a tack, and his reactions are just as sharp.


The best advice is don’t get on his bad side. He is not known for any examples of ‘charm offensives’. He is brusque (to the point of appearing rude); doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and will not tolerate poor performance. I know this, because I have met him, twice, at the Geneva Salon. I have spoken with him, and watched him in action  at press conferences.


Thierry is very much cast in the ‘Ghosn Mould’ and is all about ‘getting things done’.


And, herein I think lays part of the answer for his truncated tenure at JLR. His manner has apparently upset both the Brits, and the Indians.

In addition, his ‘Reimagine’ plan was simply too ambitious for a car maker not only suffering from stalled sales, but also, his ‘Reimagine’ project caused major bust-ups with suppliers whom he was asking to make big investments to support the new plans.


The same suppliers to JLR are also suffering from parts shortages and lack of chips – just like all motor industry suppliers. However, it would appear many other luxury car companies (who also depend on chips for their expensive options) have been handling the chip crisis much more effectively.


It appears to me that there are currently too many loose ends within JLR that are not getting the attention they need. Bolloré may be a detail man when it comes to laying blame, but he is certainly not a man to get his hands dirty sweating the details of his plans – that’s for other people to do, and they had better do it right!


If the picture I have created of Thierry Bolloré reveals a ‘difficult man’ then I think I’ve got it right. He wants to achieve great things for JLR, but the trouble is there are many tiny elements not working out right; many pesky matters, like trying to deal with falling sales; a lack of attention to the ‘vision for the brands’, and lack of revenue to support investments and big changes. 

Right now, there is so much to be done, and JLR doesn’t have a visionary CEO, nor the substance in the company to deliver any of the changes required for survival.


So, yes, I think there’s a very big possibility that JLR (especially Jaguar) will fail – and be ripe for picking it up at the right price – because Tata Group simply doesn’t have the available cash to save its British Baby. Although my mole in China tells me Tata has knocked back an offer from China's Geely.


Let’s look at some of the numbers which make me feel like this challenge is hopeless. 


In his first few months Bolloré cancelled two BIG vehicle programs – the all-electric XJ large saloon, and the J-Pace EV SUV. They were signed off and ready to go into production. The asset and cash write-down from the cancellation is said to have cost JLR £1.5 billion!

That also meant that with no new models in the production pipeline, the Castle Bromwich plant would close, awaiting whatever new models came along with the ‘Reimagine’ projects!

More numbers. JLR is still losing money, with pre-tax losses for six consecutive quarters, whilst competitors were posting profits. 

The latest results for the July to September quarter (2022) reveal a £178 million loss, which adds up to a mind-blowing total for this YTD an eye-watering £697 million!


JLR says it has a backlog of 200,000 orders it cannot fulfill – but unfulfilled orders don’t pay the bills, until the customers get their cars.


Sales of the Jaguar brand were at 17,340 units in the second quarter (2022) as against 19,248 units in the year-ago period, down 9.9 per cent.  Land Rover division sales are doing better, thanks to the new Range Rover, and continued sales success of the new Defender.

But, JLR has not made a profit since 2018, despite bold plans to boost production to more than one million vehicles a year (*more on this later), in order to challenge the German Big Three.

The plan, which was introduced by Ralf Speth, would cost £25 billion - and increase vehicle production lines from seven to fourteen, boosting the workforce to more than 40,000! The plan expanded JLR too far, too fast - and the headcount grew exponentially, so when the downturn inevitably came Jaguar had a massive overhead to battle with.


Vehicle output was boosted significantly in the UK, India, Slovakia and Brazil, but the expected sales growth never materialized, plateauing at 614,309 in 2018, which resulted in turnover of £25 billion, and profits of £1.5 billion. Those were the last of the ‘Good Old Days’.


What followed was a sharper downturn in sales, investment write-offs, and thousands of job losses. All of which leaves the mood within JLR as extremely gloomy – albeit probably, frightening!


I suspect the Tata management, struggling to deal with the mess that Speth left behind, just lost interest in the ‘grand REIMAGINE plan’ and that could explain Bolloré's decision to leave ‘for personal reasons’. Sorry, mate. It’s not going to work!


However, there appears to be another factor deeply ingrained in some of Bolloré’s thinking. Insiders tell me that designer (sorry, Chief Creative Officer) Gerry McGovern has spent a huge amount of time and effort attempting to ingratiate himself with Bolloré.

Why? McGovern, whose ego runs a close second to people like Wolfgang Reitzle, wants to ‘show’ former Jaguar Design Directors, Ian Callum and the late Geoff Lawson, just ‘how’ a Jaguar should be designed!


This ego-driven approach to product decisions by McGovern could be seen, in step with Bolloré’s radical plans, to be the pivot which could probably spell the end of Jaguar.


Now, after devoting almost 20 years of my career to helping to sustain the Jaguar brand, let me put forward some personal views. They may not save the company, but I think they’re important to consider.




When Sir William Lyons started the ‘real’ Jaguar company (after the initial branding as SS) it competed with a couple of ultra-luxury brands – Rolls-Royce and Bentley – but given Lyons' tiny budgets and his tight-fisted control over expenditures and investment, Jaguar was a niche, luxury player.


Under Lyons’ leadership the cars boasted exceptionally-sporty performance and handling, wood, leather, a confident stance in the market and an image of :“You mean I get ALL THIS, for only £££ !

Jaguars were seen as a ‘luxury bargain’, with outstanding performance and handling. However, even in those heady days, as the company established its reputation, it was only selling to a tiny niche of the car market in Britain, and a few export markets. It simply wasn’t a BIG company – even though its reputation was becoming legendary.


Jaguars may have been cheaper than Bentley and Rolls-Royce’s finest, but they certainly were not mass-market cars, by any stretch of the imagination. So, however brilliant the reputation it was still a small company making cars for a small, but loyal following.


Here’s where I come in. I began working with Jaguar in Australia, as PR Manager, in 1977, after almost ten years as a freelance motoring journalist and editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine, soaking up all I could about brands, their performance, their sales and their reputations.


I always thought Jaguars were ‘pretty special’ and almost an ‘undiscovered gem’ and as I began to frame my PR messages and communications I focussed very strongly on the ‘exclusive’ nature of Jaguar ownership. My messages were created around an idea: “No, you may not be able to afford something more expensive, but just look at the Jaguar proposition and what it delivers.”


I instinctively knew we were dealing with a small niche, and so long as those owners were satisfied, we had thousands of loyal owners who would happily return; plus, their positive word of mouth slowly boosted sales. So, my PR messages then began to focus on the elements of success the brand was proud of – it’s motor racing victories (including Le Mans); its great road test stories written by journalists who loved the brand because of the performance-value for money equation, and promotion of celebrities who chose the brand – like Clark Gable, et al. All of which added to the emotional appeal of the Jaguar brand.


So, after revealing all this personal aggrandisement, what have I got to say about the immediate past, and current situation?


Jaguar was very successful as a niche player, with cars which were outstanding value for money, but they were still niche players.


Every car company which had any vision for Jaguar had the same stupid idea. Namely, if Jaguar can make money selling 30,000 cars a year, think how much it could make if it sold 100,000 cars a year?


And that’s where all of them, from Ford to Tata (and sadly, Jac Nasser and Thierry Bolloré) failed to see the reality of the brand’s status in the marketplace. Because that is what the punters who bought Jaguars thought about the brand. They (smartly) recognised its values.


When the Jaguar X-type was launched, I remember Jac Nasser forecasting Jaguar would build in excess of 40,000 X-types a year, and total production could reach 100,000 cars!

Of course, the 40K X-types p.a. was just a sop to the British Government, because Ford wanted to shut down some Ford factories and put off thousands.

Ford's response to the government, was that Jaguar would build a new luxury car at the Hailwood plant, and would continue employing Brits.


We all know what happened, the X-type was a commercial failure.

I think perhaps that's when Jaguar’s demise to where it is today probably started then.


The idea of Jaguar competing with Bentley, and the German trio is quite frankly a joke. The company doesn’t have the substance, the technical resource, nor the reputation to insert itself into that segment.


In my mind, after Tata took over it should have produced just three models – the F-type sports car; the XE mid-sized sedan, and the XJ saloon – with the i-Pace coming along to show the promise of electrification of just those models – and more, if there was demand.

The production output would have made them relatively scarce, boosting demand, and endowing Jaguars with the same reputation it enjoyed under William Lyons.


Now, the industry heavies are going to tell me that this scenario is just not possible. The costs of making competitive Jaguars in the sub-Premium segment is still expensive, demanding big investments, in order to get a profitable return. My response is, approach this scenario like Bill Lyons would. Lyons followed the maxim of 'restricting supply', from 1951-1972 - and Jaguar was profitable.


So in my mind it's a simple recipe: Make great cars which represent excellent value for money; don’t invest more than is sensible; keep an eye on overheads and expenses, and balance the company’s survival around the realisable profits from this modest plan. Don’t be greedy. After all, it does have stablemate Land Rover as a sort of ‘cash cow’.

I think Jaguar could still achieve a truly sustainable future if its ambitions (or the ambitions of its owner(s), were less ambitious than they have been.


I could be dead wrong, but Bill Lyons died a rich man, and Jaguar was making solid profits under his leadership.



Saturday, November 19, 2022


Sure looks like it! Check this out.


Survival is all about the numbers, and Mazda’s latest data does not frame a bright picture for its immediate future.


Mazda’s profit slumped 43% in the last fiscal year (to March 31, 2022), which analysts say was caused by falling sales, foreign exchange losses, increased marketing expenses and expensive investments in it U.S. dealer network.


Even more damaging, profit margins deteriorated to 2.3% this last fiscal year, from 4.2% a year earlier.


Net income also slid 43 percent, to 63.48 billion yen ($573.0 million) in the 12 months. Revenue increased only 3 percent to 3.56 trillion yen ($32.12 billion), as worldwide retail sales declined 4 percent to 1.56 million units, losing ground in North America and China.


In a phone call with analysts, Mazda said operating profit fell by almost USD$750 million!


The company has revealed that by 2030 only 20% of its production will be EVs. Up until then it intends to primarily focus on gasoline-powered vehicles.


It is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in its next generation internal combustion engines, which experts say is only like to reap an efficiency benefit of between 1-2%.

Last year Mazda sold a near-record low volume of one million vehicles worldwide! In the first quarter of 2022 Mazda delivered only 200,000 cars worldwide, right after it received a USD$4.2 billion bailout from a consortium of Japanese banks.


Global wholesales slumped by 36% to 166,000 vehicles. Shipments to the USA fell by 37%, whilst shipments to Europe were down by 57% and Chinese sales have fallen 60% this year.


Mazda says it will be forced to hike prices in the USA, to compensate for falling profits. Mazda’s first EV (the MX-30) has been poorly-received, and could be best described as ‘dead in the water’.

Highly respected CAR AND DRIVER says the MX-30’s 100 mile (160km) driving range is ‘laughable’, and is less than half the range of its two major competitors, GM’s Bolt and the Hyundai Kona EV. Needless to say, it’s also no rocket ship off the mark, taking around 9 seconds to reach 60mph.

The magazine says the EV will be joined by a plug-in hybrid version later this year, but many are wondering if the company will still be around in 2023. Its towering losses, falling sales and profit margins, and an uncompetitive first entrant into the EV market a failure, it’s very hard to see this significant carmaker surviving.


Friday, November 18, 2022


I’m no stranger to styling studios, and despite the roles I’ve held at a number of significant brands, my close friendships with a number of key Heads of Design at a variety of competitor companies has allowed me access to a huge range of new (and top secret) concepts, which were moving from sketchpads, to tape drawings, and then to full size clays.

This is a pretty unusual situation, because normally you never allow a competitor to ‘see into your future’. I am grateful that my integrity, and confidentiality in seeing these ‘secrets in the making’ have been respected sufficiently for me to just chat to designer mates about ‘design stuff’.

After I joined Rolls-Royce & Bentley Motor Cars in 1998 I asked the then Chairman, my good friend, Graham Morris, if someone could take me on a guided tour of the Crewe works. Graham unearthed one of the original factory guides and his running commentary would have filled a history book.

Towards the end of the tour Harry and I walked past a fairly non-descript brick building, which Harry said was the styling studio. I asked if that was included in the tour, to which he replied, “Only if the ‘Guvnor’ approves (meaning the Chairman).”

I said, “Well let’s call him up and get permission.” Harry replied: “No-one just calls up the Chairman matey.” To cut a long story short, I went to the Reception desk, called up Graham Morris, who phoned down to the studio and cleared the way.


Harry was impressed, but put the success down to simply being a brash Aussie. “You blokes get away wiv’ murder over ‘ere. I must say you’ve got a lot of ‘front’ just phoning up Mr. Morris like that.”


We went through a security airlock into the studio to be greeted by the most low-key chief designer I think I have ever met – Graham Hull. He spoke softly, keeping his sentences short.

If you thought you’d pick up some gems in conversation, Graham was not the guy to be talking to.


Pinned to the wall was a sketch featuring a trio of cars designed by Graham.

They represented the forthcoming Bentley Arnage saloon, but hidden in the middle was an original rendering of what morphed into a project called ‘MSB’ – Medium Sized Bentley.

It was also the day I met one of the most inspiring young designers I had ever met, Simon Loasby – who now leads exterior design for Hyundai in Namyang, Korea.


Simon was already working up renderings of ‘MSB’ – and Graham Hull had not been invited to participate in the program.


Simon explained the reason for Graham Hull’s reticence was that since the Volkswagen takeover, VW’s Chief Designer, Hartmut Warkus, had visited the studio, and on his return to Wolfsburg advised Dr. Piëch to ‘clean out the place’ and get a decent design team in there ‘tout suite’!


After Hull’s decision to retire it wasn’t long before a trio of young designers took over the Crewe studio.


Led by one of VW’s bright new talents, Dirk van Braekel, as Head of Design, the team included a Brazilian-Italian, Raul Pires (exteriors), plus a quiet and sophisticated Brit, Robin Page (Interiors).

My first meeting with this team occurred literally the week that Mr. Warkus had approved the first sketches for the concept that was to become the Bentley Continental GT coupe - probably, by now, the most commercially-successful Bentley ever launched.

Despite the overwhelmingly daring nature of Raul Pires’ first exterior sketches, it was the interior designs which really caught my eye.

Robin Page showed that for a young man (at the very start of his, so far, illustrious career in car design), his drawings were sophisticated, unified and original. Yes, there may have been ‘just a taste’ of ‘old’ Bentley to inform Robin’s ideas, but his cohesive design was fresh, new and imposing.

Robin’s design future began at age 12, when his next-door neighbour, a lecturer in Transport Design at Coventry University, asked him what he wanted to do as a career. Robin said, “I like to draw, solve problems and I love cars”.

Robin told me: “He advised me to do an apprenticeship in design engineering, and in the evening extra studies in fine art. So, I applied to Jaguar Cars, which was the best apprenticeship at the time.

I spent the first two of my four years learning all the engineering skills and the last two years spending at least 2 weeks in every department from the shop floor to shadowing the top management teams. In the evenings I studied engineering and fine art.”

“I also worked in exterior body engineering. It was an extremely quick learning curve which gave me great experience for making feasible designs, which would be vital in my future career, and I learned how to fight for my designs.”


“After completing my apprenticeship, I worked for a year for Trevor Laight (at Jaguar) and then left to complete my dream of doing the Transport Design course at Coventry University. I studied from 1992 to 1995 and then immediately got the job at Rolls-Royce and Bentley.”


“On reflection, I did question why I did the apprenticeship in engineering when my fellow students had come from a pure art background.

The reality hit me hard as soon as I started at Rolls-Royce and Bentley - because as soon as you created a piece of design, you are immediately challenged by engineering.

This is where the experience during my apprenticeship was critical. I had the knowledge, experience, and tools to justify the feasibility of my work.” said Robin.

By the time I retired from Bentley Motors North America in 2006, Robin had been busy refreshing the interiors of the coupe, through the Flying Spur saloon, and the Continental convertible.

His next project in 2005 was the new Bentley Mulsanne saloon.

In 2009 I was witness to his work when the Mulsanne made its global debut on the main stage at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, wowing the crowd.

I continue to maintain regular contact with Dirk van Braekel who always emphasised to me what a great privilege it had been to work with two such inspired young designers like Raul Pires and Robin Page.


In 2011-2012 at the request of VWAG’s Head of Design, Walter de Silva (left), Robin also worked on a Bugatti project designing a future interior concept, then in 2013 Robin accepted a new challenge from Volvo, which wanted to achieve a more premium feel in the interior design of its future concepts.

He led the interior design team in the creation of the award-winning trio of concept cars, and the final creation of the New 90 range, 60 range and new XC40, which have already symbolized a large step forward for a more premium feel.

In 2015, he received the Interior Designer of the Year award as a symbol of his success of his new design work for Volvo. Then in 2017, Robin Page was promoted to Global Head of Volvo design to lead the team, to create the next generation of Volvo cars, and support the Polestar range.

Robin Page (Global Design, Volvo) - Thomas Ingenlath (Global Design, Polestar)

Since that promotion he has introduced the future vision of the full autonomous 360c Concept; model year updates for the full Volvo range; and an introduction of the XC40/C40 full electric car (right).

He has also introduced the Concept Recharge, which is a manifesto for Volvo’s next generation of cars, led by the exciting new Volvo EX90 launched in Sweden this week.

I’m proud to call Robin a good friend, and thrilled I was able to recognise his prodigious talents when we first met at Bentley in Crewe in 2000.

You’ll be hearing a lot more of this talented designer.