ONE OF the most arousing concepts for futurists, and the philosophical bedrock of game-changers like Uber and Tesla, is the whole ‘disruptor’ phenomenon – an innovator who challenges the status quo, or shakes up an existing market. But is this ‘disruptive’ ideology something you’d associate with Jaguar-Land Rover? Nick Rogers is certain of it.
The Executive Director for Product Engineering at the long-established, upper-crust British firm is the chap responsible for guiding JLR’s future, and he’s excited. “There’s always that challenge of if somebody says ‘you shouldn’t be doing that’, that rebellious bit comes out and we go do it.” Think radically styled, all-electric Jaguar I-Pace and the forthcoming 2019 Land Rover Defender range – a very strong chance for EV and plug-in-hybrid propulsion, especially if Rogers’ ‘disruptive’ thinking truly has legs. Or four wheels.
This is a dramatically different mindset from 20 years ago, when Jaguar launched the retro-laden S-Type sedan (and Rover the similarly heritage-inspired 75) at the 1998 Geneva Motor Show. In 2018, the Leaping Cat’s legacy at Geneva was the production version of its all-electric I-Pace, virtually unchanged from the concept car of a year earlier. Instantly, the paradigm shifted. What would the pipe-and-slippers brigade (if any of them still exist) think of a modern Jaguar as radical as the I-Pace?
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Viewed from a full-circle context, Rogers says it’s familiar territory. “In ’46, William Lyons sat there, straight out of the war in the UK – the country was just horrendous, most of the infrastructure flattened – so imagine him sitting there saying, ‘I’ve got an idea – let’s do an aluminium car [the Jaguar XK] that will do 120mph; we’ll export them around the world.’ The courage to do that…”
Discussion turns to the unconventional shape of the I-Pace (as long and as wide as a Porsche Macan or Mercedes GLC, but rejecting their long-bonnet proportions); I ask Rogers if there’s room for the brand beneath the smallest-ever modern Jaguar (the E-Pace) – how small can a Jaguar or Land Rover go?
“I think there’s opportunity for them. When we did the Evoque, people were like ‘Oh my God, a little Range Rover, what’s that gonna do?’ And it’s been awesome. It’s created a completely different segment and mindset for the brand. The same [happened] when we launched Freelander [in 1997; it was the first premium SUV of its size in Europe, and the first monocoque] … that was the number-one seller for ages. But again the palpitations – ‘oh my God, you’re gonna do a Land Rover without a chassis?’”
When Rogers started work as a body engineer in 1984, the beleaguered British Leyland had transitioned into the Austin-Rover Group, and the word “disruptive” had a very different meaning from the “just go for it” spirit of JLR’s current ambitions.
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“You had this clave of British Leyland, which was always a major battle of sorts to get through. There was lots of infighting between the brands, [with] everybody vying for their position.” Thirty-four years later, the cultural landscape at JLR’s main outpost in Gaydon is vastly different. Engineering has grown from 2500 staff in ’08 to 12,500 (“we’ve pulled in people from all over the world … lots of bright young grads and apprentices; it’s actually the perfect mix to be disruptive”) and the building has expanded to such an extent that “from the windows of ‘G-deck’ [Gaydon Design and Engineering Centre], you look straight into the [British Motor] Museum” – one of the largest collections of historic British cars in the world.
“You’ve got to understand your heritage and respect it, and use it as inspiration,” says Rogers, “[but] you can’t just wallow in the history and hope something will happen; you’ve actually got to get under the psyche of it, understand the spirit and use that to stimulate doing something else.”
Which brings us to the topic of the next-generation Defender. It’s a personal obsession for Rogers. His heart lies with Land Rover – in particular, his love of the 1948-’58 Series I (“it’s quite a bad disease,” he says) – after learning to drive at the age of 10 on his family’s small farm outside Oxford, at the wheel of his father’s Series II. He knows as well as anybody that 2019’s reimagined take on this beloved British icon needs to revive the original Landie’s pioneering, creative spirit.
“To do the unthinkable – to just go for it – is definitely where we are now.” Instantly, an all-electric Land Rover Defender springs to mind, so I put the question to Rogers: If the I-Pace is the poster child for Jaguar being disruptive, is the new Defender going to be the same for Land Rover?
“I think it’s going to be pretty cool. I can’t talk too much about it but it’s gonna be different; exciting … it’s in my heart, trust me.”