Former Jaguar production and SVO vehicles Design Director Wayne Burgess has left the British carmaker to become Head of Design at Geely Group’s fledgling new UK design facility. His official start date is today, February 1, 2019.
“Having spent 21 years working for an OEM that I love and a brand that I love, I kind of thought ‘We only go around once, you only get one shot at your career,” says Burgess, who decided to leave JLR in December. “I thought, I’d like to do something more and work for another great British brand and others before I retire. So it seemed like the time to do it.”
Burgess, who will report directly to Geely Global Head of Design Peter Horbury, is now tasked with leading a team of approximately 60 creatives in a newly-established studio catering to brands under the Geely Group umbrella, including Geely, Lotus, Lynk & Co, Proton, LEVC, and Terrafuglia.
The studio will perform as a “design consultancy” working programs for all of the Geely brands, developing forward-thinking concept and production vehicles for a new era.
“We’ve got to accept the fact that we’re moving into a new world. Vehicles are going to change, and you’ve got to adapt and move with the times as well,” says Burgess. “China is going be a major player in the transition of the automotive industry, both in electrification, but also into autonomy. There’s the investment, the drive, and the dynamicism to really move all of these technologies forward. I just looked at the opportunity with Geely — they’re doing such a great job of managing the brands they’ve acquired so far — and thought, “Well, that looks like a pretty exciting train to get on!”
The plans for Geely Group’s UK facility
were compelling for Burgess, even if the facility has not yet been constructed.
“It’s common knowledge that the first project we’re working on is for Lotus Group, which is very exciting,” Burgess said. “And that’s part of the ambitious global growth plans that Geely has for the Lotus brand. I can’t divulge anything further than that, other than I have been told that there are exciting projects that may well ultimately go beyond car design for us as well, which is pretty exciting.”
We met up with Burgess at Geely’s LEVC facility (makers of the new London taxi) in the UK midlands. This is a familiar location for Burgess, a Coventry University graduate who began working at LTI (London Taxi International) upon graduation. And the sense of coming of full circle to return to where he began his design career years ago is powerful:
“I was over here for a meeting with HR last week and I sat at a table in the main office and on top of a storage cabinet was a plastic tray, and on this tray was the LTI logo, which I designed. I did all of the corporate ID and graphics for that as well as design work on the TX1 taxi 20-odd years ago. I was the only designer they had working for the design manager, Jevon Thorpe, who remains a good friend to this day.“
Later in his career, Burgess went on to work for consultancy Omni design, where he designed luxury vehicles for Rolls-Royce and Bentley – including the Bentley Coupe bespoke commission for Mulliner Park Ward. A stark contrast to the utilitarian taxi he’d worked on previously.
He also worked on vehicles for the Rover Group – including the facelift of the first-generation Discovery and the exterior design of the face-lifted Rover 25, which assumed the twin-headlamp front end – and did some work for Honda in Europe.
“It was really a diverse portfolio. The
boss of the company, part of his whole ethic was that we just be absorbed into
whichever company we were working for, focus on their design values and
language, deliver whatever projects we were contracted to do, and then move on
to the next one,” says Burgess. It was an experience that he enjoyed tremendously,
and which later opened the door to working as an exterior designer for Jaguar.
Under the direction of the late Geoff Lawson – Jaguar’s head of design in the 1990s for whom Burgess has great respect – Burgess contributed to the original F-Type Concept car, which Lawson sadly never got to see appear at the 2000 Detroit auto show.
“I was really, really upset by the loss of Geoff. What I didn’t know was that Geoff had already chosen Ian [Callum] to come in and run the newly built advanced design studio.”
However, with the unexpected passing of Lawson, Callum was appointed Jaguar Design Director and Burgess and he developed a friendship. “I really admired his work. I loved the DB7, I thought it was brilliant, and the other projects he’d done at TWR, we got on very well,” says Burgess.
Callum was still, however, Design Director for Aston Martin, and he quickly summoned Burgess to work with him. “We set up a studio at Whitley, a separate studio in a separate building – Design Strategy it was called – and for the next two and a half, three years, I worked for Aston Martin on the DB9 and the car that became the V8 Vantage. That was, again, small team of guys. There was Ian, myself, an interior designer Ed Willis, and another young designer named Luke Ray [founder of Fuel magazine].”
Burgess confesses he learned a tremendous amount from Callum, traits like knowing when to put the pencil down and having a sense of restraint. “I think cars that have longevity and age well – and I think the DB9 has, and I hope the Jaguars that I’ve worked on do too – tend to be quite simple statements. They’re fundamentally really well-proportioned, have nice details, but they don’t have too much fashion-driven surface entertainment going on.”
Three years later, Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle, then head of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, which owned both Aston Martin and Jaguar, decided to bring in Henrik Fisker to lead Aston Martin design and Callum went back to Jaguar, taking Burgess with him. That’s when the XF program – a seminal recent Jaguar design – started.
“My favorite time at Jaguar – and I’ve given this some thought – was actually the first-generation XF. I think that was the point where you could really see that Jaguar design had made a huge change. And I think for Ian as well – I have not asked him this – but I think if you asked what the most significant car he presided over at Jaguar, he may well say XF too. When you compare it to the outgoing S-Type, that was a quantum leap forward, the statement that Ian needed to make.”
Since taking on the XF project as chief designer, Burgess has gone on to be chief designer on F-Type programs and was given the responsibility of running the SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) team as well, with Project 7, F-Type SV-R, Project 8, and projects like the I-PACE E-Trophy delivered by SVO. All of these experiences will be fundamental in achieving the next level of design thinking for Geely in the UK.
“I find overall brand strategy very interesting. At Jaguar design I was given responsibility for the Branded Goods and Licensed Products creative team because I was interested in that work and actually really enjoyed it. Good design, when you’ve got good strong brands, it can permeate every manifestation of that brand, whether it’s a wristwatch, or whether it’s an F-PACE SVR. You can bring the same design values and sensibilities to everything you do. And then, getting involved with the visual comms side of things as well allows us the opportunity to really have a total influence over everything the customer sees and interacts with.
“I think that puts us in a great place regarding how the new organization is going to work. We’ll offer brand strategy when we take on a new project. I want us to really analyze each brand we work for, understanding where it sits in the world currently, what it’s entitlement might be, and what the opportunities are for future growth, where it can possibly go from a product and services perspective, and really offer informed guidance about how that brand can progress and fulfill its potential.”
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