Gerry McGovern is the chief designer of the Range Rover Velar, which in the opinion of yours truly is the most beautiful SUV in production today. His interview with Autocar offers some fascinating insights into the design process:
“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.”
There's still a common misconception that design simply relates to how a car 'looks' on the inside and out. Design is a lot more thorough than that. It focuses on how a user interacts with their car. Everything from their reaction to the styling when they see the car at a first glance, to how they operate the air-conditioning controls, or to the feel of interior materials, are all interactive experiences that need to be designed. Design is a very holistic concept, and for a vehicle to have great design, close collaboration with engineers that will put the designer's vision on the road is key.