But it’s not just the marketing world that has a love-hate relationship with data: design is not immune to its fickleness either.
“I’m a little belligerent towards the data that comes out of marketing. Myself and the team, will listen to the market and consumer research and absorb it, then we’ll go off and do what we believe is right.”
Mind you, Ian has earned the right to take this gut instinct approach. He’s certainly been round the block in auto design terms, having spent 11 years at Ford in the 80s and has nearly 20 at Jaguar, during which time he is widely credited for moving the brand out of its retro funk.
Ian believes that a lot of customers don’t know what they want until they see it.
“I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, but if you look at the cars we’re making now, you wouldn’t have dreamt them 10 years ago. We have to be confident that we can step ahead of popular visibility.
“You have to step in and say: ‘Actually, this is the next way forward.’ You cannot let creativity be overruled entirely by data: it will cripple you. You’ll end up with the same car every time.”
The future-gazing talents of the Jaguar design team will be on display at the Design Frontiers festival in London this September, alongside the likes of Swarovski, Pentland Brands and Benjamin Hubert’s Layer.
The car maker will exhibit across two rooms: the first aims to re-educate visitors on a vehicle’s evolution from sketch to production, while the second will house a 3D model of a concept car Jaguar has designed for the future.
According to Ian, it’s really a placeholder of what might happen including how a car could become useful to more than one person.
“Once you’ve got autonomous cars, they can be on the road 24 hours a day, if people are prepared to not own them. This social aspect is very interesting to us and it’s something that we’ve got to understand as a business.
“If people just want autonomous anonymous cars then there’s not much hope for branding in the car world in the future. Perhaps, then, the highest level of branding will be on your phone and your clothes and the car will just become a capsule. But I don’t believe people will be like that.
“I think they’ll still want to be seen in a specific car that gives them an emotional connection and because they can, I think status will still prevail.”
“All my life we’ve been constrained by this engine box and mechanical bits and now I can start to move things around.”
But how does he make sure his creativity stands up against both a volatile industry and the lethargy that must come after decades of designing cars?
“I get very anxious about staying creative. I start worrying I’m not thinking freely enough. But I go away for a week – it sometimes works – and I listen to the music I used to listen to when I was younger and wanted to change the world. That gets me back into the right frame of mind, and I become inspired.”
Little Bullet block fires up memories and dragsters
It powered the Nissan Skylines and Patrols in the 1980s and was used by Holden in the VL Commodore in 1986. Now a small automotive company, not far from Holden’s soon to close Elizabeth plant in Adelaide, is helping to revive the fortunes of the classic RB30 engine.
Bullet Race Engineering has launched a billet aluminum RB30 engine block machined from solid 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum that the company says is lighter, stronger and more rigid than the original cast block. All of which allows the block to withstand outputs of up to 2500hp compared with the 153hp output of the original VL Commodore, or a touch over 200hp in the turbo model.
According to founder and managing director Darren Palumbo, the block’s dual application for racing and everyday Commodore and Nissan enthusiasts has really expanded the market.
“They mainly go into Nissan Skylines and VL Commodores, but then we have some purpose-built drag cars. It’s the same product that basically would run a world record drag quarter mile, but people can also have it in the vehicle that they drive on the weekend, or they go on car cruises in.”
“I’ve got one going out to Germany next week for a dragster, there’s another one in Malta in a dragster. They are suffering from the same problem as everyone else with the longevity of the iron block, so they change to ours.”
“That’s what creates the enthusiasts in the first place. There wouldn’t be a market if people didn’t still feel that way. There’s the 4WD scene that’s probably come from Jim Richards in the Skylines at Bathurst, but the VL scene is a whole separate deal where the guys when they were younger always wanted a VL turbo and then it just becomes how long is a piece of string.
Holden will close its South Australian assembly plant in October, bringing an end to the state’s long history of large-scale car production, but Darren sees a future for niche automotive manufacturers.
“It isn’t dead but what we’re doing is the only way to survive, otherwise you are just competing with the Chinese. It’s got to be super hi-tech, difficult to do and relatively small volume: a large company will say they are not interested if they are not doing 1000 or more units.”
Bullett is planning to expand its operations in the near future to cope with the growing demand. At the moment every block manufactured is pre-sold, but the company has plans to double production by moving to larger premises and adding more machinery.