In September 2020, as the global COVID epidemic was rising to its crescendo of chaos, when carmakers faced supply chain impediments never seen before, and were struggling to deliver finished vehicles, an aristocratic, autocratic Frenchman crossed the English Channel and joined Jaguar Land Rover, after being ousted from Renault following the Carlos Ghosn scandal.
Thierry Bolloré has very good executive credentials. He is very much cast in the same mould as Ghosn, his former boss and colleague.
Watch him walk into a room, or striding across the floor of an international motor show and he exudes an air of total self-confidence, pushing away acolytes with the dismissive air of a king fed up with his court.
Initially, quite genial, often your dismissal can occur just after you begin conversation, say 30 seconds or so.
He gives the impression of a man whose brain isn’t big enough to retain his thoughts, so he can’t afford to give up time listening to yours.
Just over a year after moving to Gaydon to take the reins of a carmaker with more problems than you would ever want to know about – from falling revenues, dangerously slim cash flows, desperate need for investment and minus a leader – let alone a vision from the leadership.
Bolloré delivered a program for the marque most failing – Jaguar.
He called the forward-looking proposal ‘Reimagine’, telling the media and the global automotive world, that he would guide Jaguar through probably the most ambitious product developments in the brand’s recent history.
He asked us all to join him in reimagining Jaguar as an entirely different approach for the vehicles which proudly bore ‘The Leaper’.
Actually, I believe from insiders, that during the development of ‘Reimagine’ there was even talk of ditching the marque’s most revered icon.
Sir William Lyons always said: “Jaguars are a copy of nothing”. So, apparently these new Jaguars will not only be an original take for an old brand, but they will also be positioned at the pointy end of the price scale, closer to Bentley than the current range of cats.
This strongly suggests that the new Jaguars will succeed or fail because not only of how they will look, but also what they promise in terms of both the aesthetic, and their athleticism. Everyone who knows Jaguar’s glorious history has heard the phrase - “Jaguars must look fast, standing still.”
Given the mind-blowing performance of the new era of premium electric vehicles nobody doubts they will deliver smooth, speedy performance, so, again it really comes down to how they will look. The ‘look’ of a Jaguar has always been elemental to the brand’s success.
Therefore, where do stand on the subject of Jaguar design? Well, after Ian Callum’s dignified retirement, there was Julian Thompson’s departure after a short time holding down the chief designer’s seat. Did they jump, or were they pushed? I suggest the answer was a bit of both. But, more on future design in a moment.
After a bold and impressive start and with sweeping French flourishes and confident gestures from the stage of the ‘Reimagine’ presentation, Bolloré was gone in just two years. What happened?
I believe it was timing, and perhaps (unsurprisingly) personality clashes. Revenues were suffering badly and Bolloré’s ‘Reimagine’ program was ambitious, came with a huge price-tag, and required the risk-averse Indian management to ‘take a punt’. The Tata 'money' team back in Mumbai also would have bristled at Bolloré’s autocratic, insistent and determined push to get his plan approved.
Who will now guide Jaguar through the choppy seas of launching new designs carrying an iconic reminder of the past? Why! It will be none other than Captain Gerry McGovern – the man who is now in complete charge of all things creative on the good ship JLR.
McGovern has proven his credentials too, following a string of incredibly successful SUVs carrying the oval green Land Rover badge – Evoque, Discovery, Defender and Range Rover. He’s a cocky character, totally self-absorbed and quite frankly, a little annoying to talk to or try to interview. His sense of self-belief has to be experienced.
His latest forays into the jungle of the British automotive media at CAR and Autocar have not revealed any details, or even a sly hint at what the new ‘cats’ will look like, but as the man who says he now commands the design ethic of a ‘House of Brands’, he uses phrases which he hopes will resonate with potential Jaguar buyers. McGovern says the new designs will be aspirational, exuberant and, most important, fearless!
Of course! But, I like the way he talks.
Before we go on with analysing whether a plan to ‘Reimagine’ the Jaguar brand will succeed, I’d like to present some design ideas which are a distillation of suggestions from terms McGovern uses; a few more defined words casually dropped by JLR’s new CEO Adrian Mardell; the tidy and symmetrical appearance of the latest models from Land Rover; a couple of tiny hints from some moles – and some good old crystal-balling.
I discussed the thankless task of designing some concepts using thin air as inspiration, with a designer mate I have known since my time as Editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine in the mid 70s. Steve Park* is highly experienced, very successful, has a great commercial eye, down-to-earth common sense, and also a sort of oblique connection to many of the brand names with threads running through this project.
We have to ask, will Jaguars that look like this attract a young, but successful and aspirational group of buyers? Only time will tell, but apparently the plan has been approved.
The continuing commercial success of Range Rover, Defender and Discovery is generating large swathes of cash thanks to an uptick in vehicle deliveries, and according to CEO Mardell, JLR has paid down £1.5 billion of debt in the last six months, and Mardell has said “Thanks to an average transaction price of £71,000, I believe that confirms our focus on aspiration of our customers”.
In fact the headline finance numbers show that JLR quadrupled its profits in the last quarter of the 2023 financial year compared with a year earlier.
With revenues rolling in, then perhaps now IS the time to splash big cash in Jaguar’s direction. There’s a view shared by many in JLR management ranks that Jaguar was the victim of too little investment; too much caution in design, a lack of ambition to move Jaguar into its own segment – and take a bold gamble. Mind you, this is the same management which was at the tiller when these issues threatened Jaguar’s survival.
What Jaguar needs is a bold leader who shares a vision of exuberant modernism with Gerry McGovern. The current CEO is a bean-counter.
McGovern is a man who some say is obsessed with the great luxury brands like Gucci, Hermes and Rolex.
This is not a bad thing if you want Jaguar to be once again considered an aspirational brand.
With so little information seeping out of Gaydon, everyone's had a go at suggesting what the new Jaguar EV may look like with both Drako and Autocar producing fancy concepts.
However, it sounds to me like Gerry McGovern may have tapped into the thinking of many Jaguar brand enthusiasts about the reasons for Jaguar’s success with cars like the XK120, E-Type and Jaguar XJ6. In all these instances Jaguar created its own market niche and under Sir William Lyons (who also obsessively chased aspirational buyers - for example stars like Clark Gable) Jaguar was a ‘brand alone’.
For comparison, in 1968 a Jaguar XJ6 was cheaper than a Bentley. But offered similar attributes of luxury, comfort and performance.
I’m also guilty of expressing this concept and I am trusting Gerry McGovern to give Jaguar the tools it needs to not only survive, but prosper, and allow its new buyers to feel a sense of pride, accomplishment and celebration.
For that, we have to put our hopes in Gerry McGovern’s ‘exuberant modernism’. I am more than happy to invest my emotional capital in ‘Reimagining’ Jaguar as a standout in JLR’s ‘House of Brands’ and regain its rightful place as one of Britain’s most respected marques.
After all, this could be Jaguar's last gasp!
*Steve Park - Designer
Steve’s been in the automotive design world for over 35 years and his background covers a wide range of experiences - from clay modeller to senior designer.
He started with Ford Australia in 1977, and during his time has had a significant influence and impact on the Falcon range of cars. He was lead designer for the AU Falcon (top).
The last Falcon he worked on was, the LAST the FG Falcon (Bottom).
Also, Steve has had senior design roles through the 80s and 90's at Ford of Europe; Dunton design in the UK; Ghia studios in Turin; a stint with The Ford Design studio alongside Mazda in Hiroshima; Exterior design in Köln, and a long-term posting with Ford North America.
Currently Steve is chief designer with HO [homologated option] based in Melbourne.