Currently reading: JLR will 'blow the opposition away', says engineering boss
Wolfgang Ziebart tells Autocar how a focus on in-car technology and refining systems production will ensure Jaguar's future success
Steve Cropley Autocar
News
4 mins read
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.”

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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.”

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Andehh 23 September 2013

Next target Audience

So many of these comments proving why JLR is right to look at their next generation target audience and not the previous.

More aggressive styling, gadgets, and technology and less tweed, wood and 'those were the days' attitudes is what will continue JLR's success.

The quicker they loose the local, yocal, vocal minority still hailing back to the good old days the better!!

Jinx59 23 September 2013

Andehh wrote:So many of

Andehh wrote:

So many of these comments proving why JLR is right to look at their next generation target audience and not the previous.

More aggressive styling, gadgets, and technology and less tweed, wood and 'those were the days' attitudes is what will continue JLR's success.

The quicker they loose the local, yocal, vocal minority still hailing back to the good old days the better!!

Er... I consider myself in the previous target audience, as I feel that the Jaguar DNA has been all but washed away. I don't wear tweed and I don't need wood. I would like something that looks more British and less Japanese in a Jaguar. What happened to the sleek styling of the past?

I bought a 640i Gran Coupé. That's not a car for country squires as I remember. I bought it because it was elegant and sleek. That really can't be said of the XF and XJ. What queer looking cars. I am crossing my fingers for the follow-up Xk in the hope that I can finally own a Jaguar. As for the F-Type - it's simply too small for me and I can't get used to the front end. What is that? A Nissan? And I can't push the seat far enough back anyway.

Smilerforce 23 September 2013

High Five

high five to wolfgang for rover bashing!!

bomb 23 September 2013

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JLR need to look at Renault's R-Link system or the new unit in the Vauxhall Adam. These simply stream data from the mobile phones in the car onto a central screen, there is no outdated built-in unit.

Manufacturers of executive machinery, be it JLR or the German big three, are going to have to find new ways of making a profit as folk won't stand for being ripped off.

Jinx59 23 September 2013

bomb wrote:JLR need to look

bomb wrote:

JLR need to look at Renault's R-Link system or the new unit in the Vauxhall Adam. These simply stream data from the mobile phones in the car onto a central screen, there is no outdated built-in unit.

Manufacturers of executive machinery, be it JLR or the German big three, are going to have to find new ways of making a profit as folk won't stand for being ripped off.

I wouldn't do that (I mean look at Renault's R-Link). The existing system is using ageing technology and it's barely released - I know I tried to interface with it. The microprocessor is underpowered and they use an old version of Android. They have problems with it today. Simple stuff like opening multiple windows for their native apps etc... It has become a real headache for them and not easy to change.

Underlines the point though about leaving software development to the experts. Car companies are not software companies. Software developments are on sub-year lifecycles (microprocessors refresh every 12-18 months) whereas cars are on 5-7 year lifecycles - completely different 'wavelengths'. The best method IMHO is just to use the speaker and display system of the car in conjunction with a Smartphone or tablet connected via Bluetooth or WiFi as you so rightly point out.

I use the iPhone link in my BMW for music and the telephone. But even then the interface doesn't go far enough since their music subsystem is substandard with respect to the iPhones. They'd do better to follow Apple's in-car system.