LONDON - Geoff Lawson and his Jaguar design team have been on an extremely demanding schedule recently.
As Jaguar adds new products, Lawson's group has had to deliver designs to ever-tighter deadlines. First came the S-type, Jaguar's mid-sized sedan, which hit the market this spring. Now the design group is putting the finishing touches to its next important creation, the X400 or 'Baby Jaguar.'
The S-type and X400 are taking Jaguar from a maker of niche vehicles to a full-line premium luxury brand by quadrupling the company's volume from 50,000 units annually to a projected 200,000.
'The time frames are really compressed, and that tends to drive out our ability to experiment,' Lawson says.
Experimentation is something Lawson is eager to retain as part of Jaguar's culture. He has a plan for fostering it.
'We need a small team of people working away from core business so they can explore without risk of failure,' he says. Jaguar wants to have a series of designs 'on the shelf that we can have reference to.'
Adds Lawson: 'Our heritage is great. We need to take more risks and see how far we can push it. But you can't do that with a gun at your head to deliver the Baby Jaguar.'
Numerous issues face Jaguar designers as the company moves to become a direct luxury competitor to BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
'Should we be looking at a smaller sports cars? We're thinking about how we can replace the XK8,' Lawson says.
Jaguar is also 'looking at some kind of utility variant,' and new convertibles and coupes.
The company must also decide whether to resurrect Daimler as a brand competing with Rolls-Royce, Bentley and the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz Maybach.
Lawson did not give a timetable for setting up the long-range design team.
He has met with Wolfgang Reitzle, the new Jaguar chairman and head of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, and has been impressed.
'He certainly has a very good feel for design, style, lines and surface. My observation is he's not playing with such things. There is good, solid judgment in the comments he's making. A guy like me is not short of opinion, but often short of judgment. I can get opinions from people in the cafeteria. I can get judgment from Wolfgang.'
Lawson is happy with the independence he has within Ford Motor Co., Jaguar's parent.
'I feel totally empowered. If we make mistakes here and produce dumb cars and designs, blame Jaguar.'
Top designers from the far-flung Ford empire meet annually.
'I have known J Mays (Ford design chief) for years,' Lawson says. 'We're like a couple of old pals. We talk as designers would talk. There is no sense of hierarchy. We help each other with our own personal views about design.'
Lawson believes the challenge of the advance design team will be to take chances while staying true to Jaguar values.
'If it's wild, radical and exciting but doesn't look like a Jaguar, we've failed,' he says. 'Our heritage is like a compass. It points the way, but it doesn't tell you how far to go or how quickly to travel.'
Jaguar X400 marketing story, see Page 20