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.”