Chief Design Officer, Land Rover
The business of design, the game changer
Very few names in the world of automotive design are better known than Gerry McGovern’s. This is not just because he was introduced to the world of car design when he was still in secondary school, or because he is the creative mind behind some of the most desirable vehicles of our generation, but also because he has mentored some of the top global automotive talent and managed to bring design to the core of Land Rover.
In this interview Gerry McGovern looks at the start of his career as an automotive designer, evaluates the challenges the industry is currently experiencing and shares his vision for the future.
I-M: You were set on the design road since secondary school, when Chrysler
started to sponsor you. Was design always the career for you?
G.McG: From an early age, I was interested in all things visual, in creativity. My mother was quite artistic. I vividly remember how she used to decorate our home on a tight budget. I even remember the modernist wallpaper by Lucienne Day. My father was the opposite, completely practical, with no artistic inclination, but was very determined, which is where I got my tenacity from.
I didn’t know then that I was going to be a car designer; if anything, first I wanted to be a portrait painter, then, I quite liked the idea of being a sculptor, an architect and even a footballer! Not necessarily in that order.
The introduction to Chrysler was a fortuitous one. It had to do with my art teacher who did a lot for me. When I got to the age of 16, he said to me, “What are you going to do?” At that point I had a place on the foundation course at Lanchester Polytechnic. He said, “Have you ever thought about being a car designer?” He asked because I used to draw cars but I didn’t really know that the car design world existed. He set up a meeting with one of the directors of design at Chrysler, but unfortunately, the day I went to see him, he had fallen off a ladder so I ended up seeing his boss and top man, Roy Axe. We immediately jelled and Roy became one of the inspirational figures in my life. I think at the time he was quite frustrated by the designers he was getting from college. He believed that there was a better way of training designers, so I was invited to spend time in the design studios with professional designers learning from them first hand. The rest is history.
From an early age, I was interested in all things visual, in creativity…
I-M: The MG F and the Range Rover Evoque are two of the biggest successes of your career. Did you realise at the time that they were going to be that popular?
G.McG: Well, if we speak about financial success, that isn’t strictly correct. The MG F was important to me because it was the first MG for 30 years and gave me a lot of profile. But that was a vehicle made on a very small budget. The vehicle that I was responsible for that came after that, the first Freelander, went on to become the best-selling Land Rover at that time and the best-selling compact SUV in Europe for seven years.
Today, things are very different. Currently, we are in the process of creating an entire new generation of Land Rovers, redefining the brand and building on established heritage to make the vehicle range relevant to the 21st century. The phenomenally successful Range Rover Evoque, developed from the globally-acclaimed LRX concept vehicle, was the first complete manifestation of that design strategy since my return from the USA. The Evoque not only changed the fortunes of the Land Rover brand but has also helped bring about a cultural change within our business, bringing design to its core.
I do put a lot of emphasis on design being important. It’s an honour for me and my team being recognised by winning awards and getting lots of publicity but for me, the satisfaction of design is to know that it enriches people’s lives and helps make businesses successful.
I received an email from one of our customers, an ex-RAF man, who had taken delivery of his Range Rover Velar and sent me a picture saying, “I love it, I love it and everybody loves it.” To me that is what gives you a huge sense of satisfaction. This guy is an engineer, a practical man, and he is talking about loving a car.
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