Q&A: Jaguar designer Wayne Burgess on the company’s first SUV, next XK

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Jaguar-C-X17-silverSince Ford sold Jaguar and Land Rover to India’s Tata Motors in 2008, the two automakers have never looked so British.

A rush of striking new product, once diluted by Ford’s cultural aloofness and cost-cutting measures, has veered Jaguar away from retro cues and toward a new design language that will see the company expand its small model range. When the new XF and XJ debuted for 2009, Jaguar only built three rear-wheel-drive cars with big V8s. This wasn’t a problem for anyone who liked Jaguars – they were fast, beautiful and incredibly pampering – but in the wider luxury market, Jaguar wasn’t on most shopping lists.

At 15,408 cars sold through November, Jaguar is still a niche brand, a relatively rare sight on U.S. roads next to the several hundred thousand cars sold by Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Cadillac and Lexus each year. But that’s changing. All-wheel-drive, smaller six- and four-cylinder engines, and the company’s first new sports car in nearly 40 years are a huge shift. And with an SUV concept that Jaguar will most certainly build, sports cars and sleek sedans won’t be the only cars available in the near future. At the LA Auto Show, we sat down with Wayne Burgess, Jaguar’s production studio director who helped pen the new F-Type under design chief Ian Callum, to get an idea of where he intends to take the company’s next cars.

BestRide: For a Jaguar SUV, what did you benchmark? Does it have to be sportier than the Porsche Cayenne?

Wayne-Burgess-JaguarWayne Burgess: To be completely clear, when we sell cars, we don’t specifically state target vehicles. We’re never that specific. The purpose of C-X17 [the SUV concept] was really for us to test the global response to the idea of Jaguar producing an SUV. We have no historical precedence at all. We have never done a vehicle like that. I’d say, 10 years ago, most people, if you said Jaguar were going to do an SUV concept would go, ‘That’s the antithesis of Jaguar.’ We’re a changing company in a changing global landscape, and the fact of the matter is, everyone wants SUVs. They’re still the biggest segment anywhere in the world.

It’s very liberating for us as a design team because for once at Jaguar, we don’t have some classic, historical vehicle that everyone would point to and go, yeah, well you’ve got to have a bit of that car in it. We chose to take reference points from the F-Type Coupe, so if you look at the back end of the C-X17, you see the lamp markers, the shape of the rear screen, those powerful rear haunches, they’re all very strongly related to the F-Type Coupe. And that’s what made it exciting because we took sports car design language and applied it to an SUV package. Now you could say that’s what Porsche did with the Cayenne, but I think because we had a broader spectrum of cars to refer to – effectively, they have the 911 – we can look at the sports sedans as well. So the front end graphics obviously have a flavor of XJ about them, the grille shape is obviously something that we have on F-Type, and XJ and XF. So we have all of these elements from the contemporary range of Jaguars that we could call upon and put together in C-X17.

BR: The XK is still your flagship sports car. What do you have to do to make that car stand out against the F-Type?

WB: I can’t talk specifically about what happens next with XK, but I can talk about what’s happening with the car right now relative to F-Type. And the interesting thing is – and this could have been predicted –the showroom traffic we’re getting because of F-Type is actually driving interest up again in XK, so XK sales have gone up since we’ve launched F-Type.

What will happen with XK is that we’ll probably push it a little bit further upmarket. I think the [XKR-S] is a superb example for where you can go with XK.

BR: So the XK, next to the F-Type, could be even more of a premium car than it is now?

WB: Yeah, I think with two cars, there is breathing space between the two. F-Type is a very focused two-seat sports car, and you do compromise sorts of things to have that pure driving experience, whereas XK is actually slightly more pragmatic. It’s more luxurious, it’s more functional. It has more luggage capacity. They can coexist.

BR: At what point do you think does the Jaguar lineup get diluted? What’s the limit for saying, ‘This is not a Jaguar anymore.’

WB: To be honest, it’s a difficult question to answer right now because as you rightly point out, right now in the scheme of things, we’re a low volume manufacturer. We have a very niche position. I think for us to be a viable, profitable business moving forward, we do need to be bigger than where we are, just so you can leverage economies of scale. When you’ve got more product in the showroom, you get cross-pollination [of the various models]. There’s an opportunity to grow. But I don’t think anybody is saying Jaguar wants to be BMW. But we have to be bigger than we are to move forward successfully.

The aspiration is not to be doing a million vehicles a year, it never was.

Edited from a longer interview.

Clifford Atiyeh

Clifford Atiyeh

Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own. Based in Connecticut, he writes for BestRide, Car and Driver, The Boston Globe and other publications.