"Or several jobs. I haven’t seen a lot of that in recent car design, though some of the best classic cars have inadvertently embraced modernism because their designers created beautiful forms and left it at that.”
As the next question forms on my tongue, McGovern answers it: “And now you’ll ask me why we haven’t done this before. The truth is it wasn’t so easy here at Land Rover, where there has always been such passion about functionality. Because of that, it might have been easier for another brand to embrace these principles. But don’t get the idea I’m trying to undermine engineering. Without engineering and design working in partnership – me and Nick [Rogers, JLR’s engineering chief] having a very clear understanding – a project like Velar wouldn’t even get started.”
It stands massively to McGovern’s credit (and to that of his Jaguar opposite number, Ian Callum) that design has been elevated to the importance of engineering inside JLR’s Gaydon-Whitley estate. Both men have been tireless in explaining the significance of their discipline and have become ambassadors for the British design community in the process. But just to be safe, McGovern explains ‘why design matters’ one more time.
“Some people still think our job is to apply styling to an existing set of hard points. It was like that back in 2004, when I came back to Land Rover after my time with Lincoln in the US. Go away and make it look good, they’d say. But if you’re forced to do it that way, the horse has already bolted. Hard points define volumes and proportions, and together they’re the number one requisite for a great-looking vehicle. Get them wrong and it’ll never look any good, however good your details and surfaces. That’s why designers need to be involved in these decisions.” Everything changed, says McGovern, with Tata’s acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover for £1.3 billion in 2008. “There was lots of mumbling, both in Europe and India, about Tata buying us. Everyone asked the same question: what do they know? But then Mr [Ratan] Tata arrived and asked the killer question: why does design report to engineering? He’d trained as an architect, he loved cars and knew exactly what our job entailed. I won’t interfere, he told us, and no on else will. It’s your destiny and you control it.”
It was the 2011 Range Rover Evoque, McGovern says, that first demonstrated the baked-in desirability an emotive design could bring to a Land Rover. “It was a vehicle with design at its very core,” he says. “It’s not perfect, mind. The front overhang isn’t as good as I wanted it to be. But it has worked, for sure. Early on, someone in marketing told me we’d struggle to sell 30,000 a year, and then we did 130,000. I haven’t seen him around much lately...” In all this talk of hard points no longer being imposed, I feel rather rude suggesting that since Jaguar’s F-Pace SUV and the Range Rover Velar have much in common under the skin – and since the F-Pace appeared first – perhaps this is exactly what has happened with Land Rover’s latest and greatest. McGovern briskly bats this away, probably because he has right on his side. (I later hear, elsewhere in JLR, that the F-Pace preceded the Velar mostly because Jaguar’s need of an SUV sales bounce was greater.)
“We specified what we wanted,” says McGovern. “We’d had a mid-sized Range Rover planned for a long time, but it takes a time to fit new models into the cycle plan. We certainly didn’t use the same hard points as the F-Pace. We’d dictated our requirements well before that came along. The platform was created to provide what we needed and it worked for Jaguar, too.”