Wolfgang Ziebart tells Autocar how a focus on in-car technology and refining systems production will ensure Jaguar's future success
Steve Cropley Autocar
21 September 2013

A few weeks ago, Jaguar Land Rover chief executive Ralf Speth appointed his former boss, Wolfgang Ziebart, 63, as engineering director, rekindling a relationship that began more than two decades earlier in Munich.

Ziebart was BMW’s head of engineering in the 1980s, an era acknowledged as model-rich and full of creativity.

Both Ziebart and Speth subsequently moved to the UK as part of BMW’s ‘Rover turnaround team’, an enterprise that ultimately failed. Here, Ziebart explains what brought him back to the UK.

What made you decide to give the UK another chance?

“It’s mainly because I’m excited about creating great cars. JLR nowadays is an engineering-driven company that reminds me of BMW in the 1980s. You don’t have to wait for monthly committee meetings to get things done. You can reach the people you need to talk to easily, and then make quick decisions.”

You ran one of the best BMW 3-series teams ever. Can the new Jaguar hit those standards?

“Our aim must be to blow the opposition away. Jaguar’s 3-series rival will be the only car in the class with all-aluminium technology, which makes it very special. Combine that with our new electronics and our innovative engine range, developed in-house, and you have huge potential. There is a lot to do, but this can be a great car.”

What is the priority?

“I can think of three. First, we have to take the lead in the aspects of design that move fastest: driver assistance, telematics, fuel and weight saving, stuff like that. Next, we have to refine the way we do our cars, making sure, for instance, that we have one electrical system, not many different systems. Third, we have to organise our product development into specialist teams so we don’t finish up with five different tailgate systems across the company instead of one. We need a tailgate team. Such things bring big rewards.”

Are you pleased with reaction to the C-X17?

“It’s been overwhelming. Jaguar design is very specific compared with other companies I have known. One styling project I saw at another company involved 50 separate models. They had to use an aircraft hangar to display them all properly. But [Jaguar design director] Ian Callum and his team bring just two models — usually a good one and a better one. Then the better one is further refined, and that becomes the car. To me, Ian is a wonderful designer. He finds the heart of Jaguar right from the first.”

What do BMW people think of Jaguar?

“More and more, they take us very seriously. In former times, Jaguar was viewed as a small entity with no future, but nowadays they watch us carefully because they can see we are going places.”

You worked here 12 years ago on the Rover turnaround. Have things changed here?

“Things have changed enormously. Twelve years ago, Rover’s competence at building cars was very limited. Honda seemed to have been doing all the difficult stuff. We realised there wasn’t much at Rover to turn around. Now, the competence is vastly better; it is on the same level as any good premium car manufacturer. Great work has been done to improve the skills of the creative teams.”

You’re well known as an electronics expert. Do you enjoy the speed with which technology develops?

“Absolutely. It’s a major reason why I’m here. I did my training as a mechanical engineer, which is probably just as well because the electronics I’d have learned back then would be irrelevant today. You have to be very clear-minded about electronics today. In a modern infotainment system, it’s the business model that counts most, and the platform that supports it. In the future, the client will have all his applications and data in the cloud, and they will run in the car as they do on his phone or laptop.”

Is it true that infotainment systems are now more complex than engine technology?

“Yes, vastly more complicated. Most engine control units have a capacity of about 2MB, whereas a simple mobile has 100MB. It’s no contest.” 

What do you think of Jaguar Land Rover quality and reliability?

“Today, it is completely different from what I remember. The difference is the attention the company gives today’s customer. In the old days, as leader of the turnaround team, I remember informing the Rover board that poor quality was their biggest problem. But the guy in charge disagreed. ‘Nonsense,’ he said. ‘We’ve just improved it.’ Today, it’s completely different. Broadly speaking, we are at the levels of our competitors, give or take. But we can improve, and we will.”

Join the debate

Comments
27

21 September 2013

Heard all this before, back in the 80's (with Egan, when we all knew it was guff) and later from the cretins (J Mays, Jac Nasser et al) at Ford. Crushing disappointments, all.

But this German chap seems vastly more credible. Can we dare hope? I think so.

Wonder if he'll be rubbing (padded) shoulders with Posh Spice on the LR side. Just kidding.

21 September 2013

This is what's wrong with JLR.... concentrate on tailgates when the engines are out of date ( solution is supposedly on its way but....), put out a "successor" to the E-type which has nothing in common with the philosophy/approach of the original-except in marketing hype, hype the light weight aluminum construct of the "sportscar" that comes out 680 pounds heavier than the competition with a price 20 K more and useless trunk. Manufacture an SUV the size of a barn with less trunk space than a 5 series BMW wagon. Tailgates forever..... I can hardly wait to see the ads hyping the tailgatesof the new products. Concentrate on rectifying the present product line before frothing at the mouth about new product. There is nothing wrong with the design which I consider world class leading, its the content that drives you up the wall.

GeToD

 

A34

21 September 2013

Specialist design teams (albeit needing strong management to ensure coordination)... Focus on Al bodies and electronics (guess what will control suspension in a few years, etc)...

Looking good for Asian ambition, German management, British design...

21 September 2013

I had little interest in Jaguar to start with, but the constant JLR non-stories are making me sick of the brand and their not-very-good cars.

Yet another bit of PR.

21 September 2013

JLR should focus their efforts on producing an engine capable of beating BMW's four-cylinder diesel before focusing on other areas. Less weight would also have a similar effect.

520d: 184bhp, 380nm, 62.8 mpg, 119g/km, 1695kg.

XF 2.2 Td: 163bhp, 400nm, 55.4 mpg, 135g/km, 1735kg.

21 September 2013
MikeSpencer wrote:

JLR should focus their efforts on producing an engine capable of beating BMW's four-cylinder diesel before focusing on other areas. Less weight would also have a similar effect.

520d: 184bhp, 380nm, 62.8 mpg, 119g/km, 1695kg.

XF 2.2 Td: 163bhp, 400nm, 55.4 mpg, 135g/km, 1735kg.

Isn't that what the £350 million engine plant is for, getting rid of the need to buy in dated FORD engines.

The new engines will be in the car that takes on the 3 Series BMW.

21 September 2013
Autocar wrote:

a focus on in-car technology

translation: focus on rubbish that is not only outclassed by the stuff you find in your average Carphone Warehouse but which is dated by the time the thing rolls off production lines, and which will render the car unreliable five years hence and not economically repairable within a decade. Look at ANY automobile from history that focused on in-car technology. JLR need competitive mechanicals, not bought-in S. Korean electronics.

Also, it's getting very hard to defend your supposedly neutral stance here when all I see when returning to Autocar is reams and reams of Jaguar PR.

21 September 2013

"In the future, the client will have all his applications and data in the cloud, and they will run in the car as they do on his phone or laptop.”
--------------------
Which is my main gripe with such technology in a car. Phones are changed every few years or sooner, same with laptops, do they want us to change a car whenever the car stereo, sorry infotainment system, (showing my age) is updated?

You can't return a car every time a new improvement in technology occurs. In days gone, if some new technology came alone, simply swap out your DIN sized unit for a reasonably priced modern unit. Technology advancement and unique designs make the infotainment systems in today's cars are one of the most expensive pieces of equipment, it's now cheaper to change the car than the hi fi.

Is this a deliberate ploy by manufacturers? As cars become more reliable and longevity ever increases, perhaps manufacturers are banking on people changing their car in order it's compatible with the latest iphone.

21 September 2013
scotty5 wrote:

Phones are changed every few years or sooner, same with laptops, do they want us to change a car whenever the car stereo, sorry infotainment system, (showing my age) is updated?

quite - these days the only in-car technology that makes any sense is that which allows you to connect your phone or tablet and have the vehicle simply play host to whatever 'infotainment system' you carry around in your pocket, NOT attempt to integrate some dated black box nonsense behind the dashboard that you can't upgrade or customise and which will eventually go wrong and slice a sizeable portion from the value of the car.

You just have to look at the overcomplicated, underperforming navigation systems fitted to your average Beemer merely four or five years ago - they are simply terrible next to the gps apps you get for free on a £99 Windows smartphone, let alone anything else. Plus the list price for these things would have been something insulting like £2,750, with updated map DVDs released annually at £125 +VAT a pop.

Why do the Germans charge such stupid money for options? Because they have customers stupid enough to buy them.

23 September 2013

Couldn't agree more Scotty5 and ThwarteEfforts.

BMW pride themselves on their infotainment system. The infotainment system in my GC is way behind with respect to my iPhone with the exception of naviagtion perhaps.

I set up email so I could read it on the big display. I never use it. It is just too clumsy. I access my email from the iPhone in a fraction of the time. Likewise regarding the Internet browser. Why would I Google from the GC's display when I can do it so much more quickly on my iPhone. In terms of ergonomics, you can't beat Apple.They lead the industry in software design.

So why would BMW snub Apple's in-car initiative? Don't get it. Big mistake. If Audi and Merc go Apple, it's a decison BMW will regret. OK, they want to be in control 'cos it's a car - that is a manageable problem.

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