While Jaguar still has many challenges — it has likely spent eight of its nine lives — the brand might not have survived without Ian Callum, who is leaving July 1 after 20 years as design chief.
Callum pulled off what is arguably the most difficult job in automotive design: creating a new design language for a luxury brand. And the pressure to get it right must have been immense. When Callum took over in 1999, Jaguar was still coasting on the design fumes of its great 1960s cars, such as the Mark II, XJ6 and 420.
Jaguar had a small, loyal but aging global customer base that did not want major changes to its timeless styling: the felinelike rear haunches, the oval grilles, etc. They would tolerate minor nips and tucks here, and new colors and materials there, but little else. Callum knew that was a dead end. The failure of the S-Type in the early 2000s, a retro-styled rehash of the classic 1960s Mark II sports sedan, proved Jaguar design had to move forward.
It must not have been easy for Callum, who has told the story hundreds of times of how he was transfixed as a boy in Scotland while standing in front a Jaguar showroom, staring at the new XJ6 in 1968. And yet, he fought like hell to retire those designs and usher in a new era.
Al Kammerer, who served at Jaguar's product development chief while Ford owned the brand, told me last year, on the 10th anniversary of the company's sale to Tata Motors, of the internal resistance to a portion of Callum's design for what would become the 2010 XJ sedan.