Rolls-Royce has lost its design director, just weeks after launching its new Cullinan crossover. Coincidence?
It wasn’t earth shattering news, even if it was somewhat surprising. The most striking thing about it perhaps was its timing. But even allowing for that, the news that Giles Taylor abruptly resigned his design leadership position at Goodwood within weeks of a major new product announcement might not even have been particularly noteworthy, but for a number of rather more compelling aspects.
The first of course is difficult to miss. Indeed, some have suggested Cullinan can be seen from space, where we’re reliably informed, nobody can hear you scream. The vulgar monstrosity RR has unleashed upon the world in the form of this ‘high-sided vehicle’ has precipitated a high percentage of commentators, both of the professional and armchair variety giving Rolls-Royce a well-deserved critical lashing.
It’s possible to surmise therefore that some of the mud (and wet sand one assumes) may have stuck. Not so much to Torsten Müller-Ötvös and his board, who after all commissioned and approved the thing in the first place, but a steaming tureen (beautifully decorated with lapis lazuli and painstakingly gilded with fine tracery it may be, but a steaming tureen nonetheless) of opprobrium appears to have landed upon the hapless Taylor’s shoulders.
As much as we might wish it to be otherwise, car design and indeed car designers are not, in the overall scheme of things terribly important, or indeed particularly influential in today’s automotive landscape. Certainly few are accorded the influence enjoyed for instance by Sindelfingen’s Chief Creative Officer, the esteemed G. Wagener. In fact, many of his peers (if indeed peer is the correct term) struggle to gain a toehold at the boardroom table.
One might ascribe a similar level of importance to that of film directors. With a box office success behind them, they are courted and flattered, but exile and insignificance remain only one commercial flop away. Ditto car-design directors, who to quote the late Geoff Lawson, find much of their efforts consigned to the cutting room floor.
To lay the Cullinan’s unlovely form at Giles Taylor’s feet therefore is to misconstrue the level of influence he is likely to have enjoyed. He was handed a brief and one assumes he executed it to the best of his ability. Instead, the Cullinan is the product of Rolls-Royce’s regressive senior management who initiated the programme and approved the creative execution. And these gentlemen are not bothered one whit by the snipings of the likes of us – particularly given that the lumbering behemoth is already sold out for over a year.
What we may never definitively ascertain is whether Taylor jumped or was pushed. Nevertheless, we can confidently dismiss the notion that he was (a) sacked over Cullinan’s reception, or (b) resigned in a fit of Robert Oppenheimer-style remorse.
Automotive News last week cited disagreements between Taylor and senior management as to Rolls-Royce’s future design direction, once the storied carmaker switches to a more EV-centric architecture for their next generation of cars. One can never be certain about these matters, but if so, it lends further ammunition to those who view current RR and BMW management as, to put it mildly, utterly becalmed.
Certainly, there can be no further doubt – a creative crisis continues to play out at the Petuelring and its subsidiary motor businesses. Taylor’s exit now completes the pack of comparatively recent high-level departures, which include Benoit Jacob (BMW i), Anders Warming (MINI) and Karim Habib (brand-BMW).
Jacob has since found gainful employment at Chinese EV startup, Future Mobility, while Warming accepted Beiqi Foton’s offer to lead a reanimated Borgward’s future stylistic path – such as it is. Habib took the comparatively mainstream route to head Infiniti’s design team. All in their roundabout manner cited creative freedom as their rationale, Warming telling Auto-Didakt in an interview earlier this year that he needed a fresh challenge.
However, the last man standing throughout this reshuffling of the creative pack is BMW Group Design Veep, Adrian van Hooydonk, an individual who replaced Chris Bangle in physical terms at least, and one whose tenure increasingly raises questions as to the environment over which he has presided.
Having begun his professional career at Citroën, where his proposal for the 1997 Xsara was chosen for production, Giles Taylor was viewed as a rising star at Vélizy. However in 1999, he accepted an offer from Jaguar, remaining at Whitley for over a decade. But in a period where he was responsible for the interior design of the 2003 X350-series XJ, and design management for both X150 XK and current X351 XJ programmes, the summit of his ambitions was as yet unrealised.
He joined Ian Cameron’s design team at Goodwood in 2011, and following Cameron’s retirement, Taylor inherited both the senior role and a cache of completed designs, meaning that the only truly Taylor-helmed production cars are believed to be the current Phantom, the Cullinan and one assumes, the next-generation Ghost and Wraith.
Last week’s Automotive news report states that Taylor’s split was ‘amicable’ but would take place with ‘immediate effect.’ A period of gardening leave seems likely, with unofficial sources suggesting a move to another Asian disruptor brand is in the offing. Certainly, the options open to him within the European industry are not particularly broad – or given the current state of play, one imagines, particularly appealing.
Several searching questions remain however. Why have matters of design gone so catastrophically awry at the Vierzylinder, and what can be done to address the creative atrophy which has befallen the BMW Group? Furthermore, how can the recently appointed heads of BMW’s subsidiary brands make any noticeable headway without meaningful change at top level? Beyond that however, one must ask whether the European industry’s growing stylistic torpidude is forcing designers to look further afield?
For Giles Taylor however, one feels tempted to pose a more fundamental question. Having surveyed the pinnacle of Mount Olympus, how precipitous now his fall?
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