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Home > Gear > Motoring > What makes a good car design? Jaguar Land Rover’s Professor Gerry McGovern OBE tells us
What makes a good car design? Jaguar Land Rover’s Professor Gerry McGovern OBE tells us

What makes a good car design?

While the emphasis in today’s world has been largely placed on sustainability, fuel consumption, safety, and performance, one has to recognise that none of these would be possible without taking into consideration a car’s design.

Automotive construction goes beyond function. It is the basis that forms the emotional aspect which compels non car-enthusiasts or hobbyists with an impulse to buy the vehicle — after all, who wouldn’t want to own something that’s aesthetically pleasing? We’re only human.

There’s a lot that goes into the process of crafting an automobile, and while we can tell a suave car from a regular one, we’re no experts in the details. Which is why we’ve enlisted the help of Chief Creative Officer of Jaguar Land Rover, Professor Gerry McGovern OBE.

For the uninitiated, he is a critically acclaimed figure in the world of design, and his portfolio includes the ground-breaking Range Rover Evoque, which also won Best Production Car in the 2010 Car Design of the Year Awards. And yes, the OBE at the end of his name stands for Officer of the Order of the British Empire, a title bestowed to the British car designer in recognition of his achievements by Her Majesty The Queen just two years ago.

Read on to find out what he believes constitutes good design, his personal favourite design elements, and the future of car design.

what makes a good car design gerry mcgrovern obe jaguar Land Rover
Professor Gerry McGovern OBE, Chief Creative Officer of Jaguar Land Rover

What makes a good car design?

For Range Rover, less is compellingly more. Modernism defines the way our vehicles look. Our vehicle designs are clean, reductive, free from excessive details, and lines have a level of restraint. They are emotionally engaging which can be seen in some of the vehicles that we have produced to date, including the Defender.

The fifth-generation Range Rover is the total embodiment of modern luxury. When designing the vehicle, there was a very clear goal, and we reached this by sticking to our design strategy which is comprised of four key elements: Modernism which is the aesthetic that we embrace to define the way the vehicle looks, integrity, purpose and finally, desirability.

What’s the thought process behind reinventing the design of a car?

The new Range Rover doesn’t follow fashion or trend, but by a modernist design philosophy — combined with over 50 years of evolution, it is quite simply the most desirable Range Rover ever created.

As a design team we worked alongside engineering to create a clean, reductive design, free from over-augmentation and excessive lines and detail. The design is sophisticated and always forward-thinking.

Could you run us through some of the most significant, differing aspects in the design for the Range Rover SV?

New Range Rover SV is the first vehicle from Special Vehicle Operations to carry the new ceramic SV roundel, representing our passion for modern luxury, performance and capability. The roundel introduces a simplified ‘SV’ model name that will identify all new Land Rover vehicles launched by Special Vehicle Operations in future.

We have curated two new design themes for the Range Rover SV. SV Serenity amplifies pure luxury detailing, and SV Intrepid exudes a more stealth-like character. Within the New Range Rover SV, we have also used exquisite materials chosen for their tactility, such as smooth ceramics, sustainably sourced woods and lustrous plated metals.

The smooth ceramics featured inside the new Range Rover on the gear shifter, Terrain Response and volume controls give an elegant cool-to-the-touch feel and are produced using the same techniques as luxury watch faces.

what makes a good car design gerry mcgrovern obe jaguar Land Rover
New Range Rover

There’s an understated simplicity about the rear end of the New Range Rover that makes it quite different: could you also expand a little more on that? Any personal favourites?

The New Range Rover is characterised by three lines that can trace their origins through the generations; the falling roofline, strong waistline and lower rising sill line. These trademark features create an almost teardrop shape and give the illusion of converging at a point far behind the vehicle.

The rear is the most striking view of the vehicle as it incorporates all elements of our modernist philosophy. It is defined by vertical tail lights encased in a single Gloss Black panel that runs the whole length of the rear, giving the car its width.

The hidden-until-lit technology also integrates other functional lights and defines the width of the vehicle. The distinctive boat tail rear, complete with a practical split tailgate, creates an elegant profile that conveys Range Rover’s peerless stance and presence.

The beauty is in the simplicity of the new Range Rover, the precise detailing and clean taut surfaces give the new Range Rover a milled from solid appearance. The digital LED headlight design, which is contained within the upper aperture, is another personal favourite. It has a jewel-like quality and refracts off the daytime running lights, providing a cut-glass effect.

The challenge for this vehicle was not to change the car, not to redesign it but to simply make it better, which is exactly what we did.

Professor Gerry McGovern OBE, Jaguar Land Rover Chief Creative Officer

The Range Rover is such an iconic car, what were some of the challenges you faced while trying to move forward with its design without losing its heritage? How did you balance the sense of luxury and comfort with the brand’s off-road heritage?

The Range Rover is such an iconic vehicle. When it became time to step into a new chapter with the fifth generation, we wanted to ensure we maintained that emotional connection that people have had with this car since the first of its kind in 1970.

The clamshell bonnet, for example, has been a feature of every Range Rover since 1970. However in the new Range Rover, its shut line has halved compared to previous Range Rover, describing control and precision. The floating roof graphic is another example of how we have kept a key part of the Range Rover DNA.

The new Range Rover has stayed true to its roots but leads by example with breathtaking modernity, peerless refinement and unmatched capability, informed by over 50 years of evolution.

Function of course, is important, but in that same line, would you feel as though the aesthetic design of a car would play a more significant deciding factor for the average consumer who has that propensity to pay for a car like the Range Rover?

Range Rover lives in a world of luxury, one that has changed dramatically. We are now living in a world where sustainability, longevity, and sophistication are becoming more important. Desirability is a fundamental part of our design strategy, and we believe that there is no real luxury without desirability. The new Range Rover resonates with our customers and clients emotionally and enriches their lives.

Details like the white ceramic touches and the halved shut line are stunning in terms of aesthetic and precision but are also a missable detail for those who aren’t paying attention. Is this approach of subtle/quiet luxury what “modern luxury” means to the brand?

The design of the New Range Rover has been carefully considered and refined literally to the millimetre. Everything is so pure and free from any superfluous ornament. Working with the finest materials and innovative technologies has enabled us to introduce even more luxury into every part of the New Range Rover.

The New Range Rover is breathtaking in its modernity — the unmistakable proportions and instantly recognisable profile is still present in the fifth-generation instalment. It is the pinnacle of our modernist design philosophy and delivers a sublime design statement that takes modernity and sophistication to the next level.

Are there plans for a fully electric version? How do you see this luxury off-roader tackling the competitive market?

A pure-electric model will join the family in 2024, bringing zero tailpipe emissions driving to the Range Rover for the first time. 

The New Range Rover can currently be purchased with an Extended Range Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) powertrains, the P440e and P510e, and the latest mild-hybrid (MHEV) P400 Ingenium petrol and D300 and D350 diesel engines.

The new Extended-Range PHEV powertrain provides up to 100km (62 miles) of near-silent pure-electric driving, with instantaneous electric torque accelerating from 0-60mph in 5.3s (0-100km/h in 5.6s).

Personalisation and customisation is big with the SV, but what’s the craziest thing Land Rover will be able to accommodate for a customer?

The New Range Rover SV will offer greater scope for personalisation than ever before. It’s estimated that the New Range Rover SV can be configured in more than 1.6 million different ways.

For the first time, Special Vehicle Operations customers can specify a Range Rover with a sustainable leather alternative by choosing the Light Cloud and Cinder Grey Ultrafabrics™ options with the SV Intrepid interior theme.

New Range Rover SV customers can choose from a selection of the standard Range Rover colour palette or one of 14 additional colours in the SV Bespoke Premium Palette, including a range of vibrant Gloss and sophisticated Satin finishes.

What does the future of car design look like to you?

Jaguar Land Rover will reimagine the future of modern luxury by design through its two distinct British brands, with sustainability being at our core. As a result, we will become more agile creators of the world’s most desirable luxury vehicles and services for the most discerning of customers, a strategy designed to create a new benchmark in environmental, societal and community impact for a luxury business.

In the next five years, Land Rover will welcome six pure electric variants across the Range Rover, Discovery and Defender range as we continue to be the world leader of luxury SUVs.

Jaguar, on the other hand, will become a purely electric luxury brand with a dramatically beautiful new portfolio of emotionally engaging designs and pioneering next-generation technologies, existing to make life extraordinary making our customers feeling unique and rewarded.

Learn more about Jaguar Land Rover and the new models here.

What makes a good car design? Jaguar Land Rover’s Professor Gerry McGovern OBE tells us

Jocelyn Tan

Senior Writer

Jocelyn Tan is a travel, food and design writer who loves to explore lesser-known cities abroad and chat with locals about their favourite eats in town. When she's not writing, she's probably indulging in serial killer podcasts or reading one too many books on East Asian history.


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