LONDON - The sudden death of styling director Geoff Lawson leaves Jaguar without one of the key architects of its resurrection.
Lawson was the stylist who, during his 15 years at Jaguar, penned such distinctive designs as the XK8 sports car, the XJ8 and XJ6 sedans, and the new S-type mid-size sedan.
Lawson's designs, coupled with Jaguar's dramatic improvements in quality, paved the way for the company's current bid to join BMW and Mercedes-Benz among the world's top volume premium-luxury brands.
At least two other key figures in the Jaguar comeback have departed the company this year, both to other jobs at Ford Motor Co., which owns Jaguar. Nick Scheele, Jaguar chairman for seven years, has been appointed president of Ford of Europe. Earlier in the year, Dave Szczupak, chief program engineer for Jaguar's S-type, was named Ford's chief powertrain engineer and moved to the USA.
Former Jaguar purchasing chief Steve Armstrong has also moved to the USA to join the AutoAlliance Ford/Mazda joint venture at Flat Rock, Michigan.
The departures have set the stage for a personnel upheaval at Jaguar, as it joins the family of brands under Ford's Premier Automotive Group. Wolfgang Reitzle, ex-BMW No. 2, has been brought in to oversee all the Premier brands, which include Jaguar, Volvo, Aston Martin and Lincoln.
Reitzle now faces the task of replacing Lawson, who was credited with keeping Jaguar aflame during a period of rapid transformation.
'He produced modern cars that preserved the spirit of (Jaguar founder) Sir William Lyons,' said Carl Olsen, chairman of transportation design at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. Olsen remembers when his father-in-law David Jones was chief designer at Vauxhall, where Lawson was a young designer.
'The drawings he did at that period with Vauxhall are some of the finest car renderings I've ever seen,' said Olsen.
'I'm never pleased,' said Lawson during a recent interview with Automotive News Europe, one of the last he gave. 'Designers never are. They only see what is wrong.'