The Lord Of Design



Born in Coventry in England in 1956, Gerry McGovern made his first steps in the world of the automotive design at the age of 18, when he was sponsored by Chrysler. Thanks to one of his professors, he was introduced to Royden Axe, which allowed him to have a full immersion in the world of the design, while he was still a student. After a Master’s degree in automotive design at the Royal College of art of London, he started his career in the United States, with Chrysler. After several experiences in the United States, he decided to return to the United

Kingdom and to the brand he liked so much, Land Rover. Since his return in 2004, he worked hard to diversify the range of the brand, which counts today several models, intended for different targets. Let’s meet this passionate man, who decided to invest all of his talent and dedication in the service of the brand of his heart. It is to him, Gerry Mc Govern, that we owe all the Land Rover models of the modern era, starting with the Evoke and soon the Velar.

How was born your passion for the automobile? Did you always know that you wanted to become a designer?

When I was a child, I did not really know what was an automotive designer, but I knew that it was handling about art. I was inspired by the model making, the architecture, by the clean and minimalist design. Since my youngest age, I must say that I drew a great part of my imagination from American television. I grew up seeing cars of the 60s evolving on TV screen. I started drawing when I was very young. I drew buildings, cars, trucks … it was very much oriented towards the industry and all that which man creates and makes with his own hands. I knew then that I wanted to become an artist. I started with painting. I wanted to paint both in modern and abstract styles. I wanted to be a painter, until the day I realized that one could not live on it and that the artists only became “profitable” once they were dead (laughter). But it is at the age of 17 that I really knew that I wanted to become an automotive designer. There was a period when I wanted to be an architect, and then as if by chance, I fell on an article handling about the automotive design. It was really very glamorous, all these designers in their tailor-made suits, next to their creations. That’s when I said to myself that it was really what I wanted to do.

While you were still a student, your professor of art introduced you to Royden Axe, director of design at Chrysler. How did he influence your debuts and your course?

He was interested by the various drawings I made, not only cars drawings. I shall never forget what he told me. For him, to know really if we had the talent needed to become an automotive designer, a total immersion in a studio of design was needed. I was still a student. I was 18 years old and this opportunity allowed me to be in the proximity of high-level designers, who gave me invaluable advices, which I was able to apply throughout my training and which make me today reaching the point I’m in. I really began very early.

You then joined the Royal College of art of London, for a Master’s degree in automotive design

That was the very first time that I left my home town, Coventry, to find myself in London. Everything was new to me. I had the opportunity to work with designers from all over the World , from Japan, Germany, South Africa, etc. It was a most interesting melting pot, I must say. It was stimulating to have all these various cultures in the same space around us. I keep especially a particular memory of the post-war designers.

How was your first experience at Chrysler, between England and Detroit?

I was really young, no more than 21 years old and I keep a particular memory of my experience in Detroit. It was really intimidating to join a company such as Chrysler. It was in the late 70’s. It is true that I did not stay there a very long time, but I did learn a lot. I had the opportunity to put into practice the techniques of drawing which I had been taught. I had to make an effort and work to adapt myself to the American sizes, when developing models. I had to draw bigger cars and when you manage to make it, later, to draw smaller ones is not any more a problem. At that time, there were still no computers and we made all drawings by hand. My drawing technique had naturally improved.

What urged you to follow Royden Axe at Rover?

I had already worked with him in the United States and when he returned to England to take the lead of the design at Rover, he told me: ” if you have a moment, come, so we can speak “. It was an important step for me to make, after the passage at Chrysler. It is true that I also practiced management, but I am a designer above all. It thus was a way for me to return to my first love. It was really a good opportunity.

At Land Rover, you worked on the Freelander. Did you expect it to become a best-

When we worked on the Freelander, Peter Horbury simply came to see me and told me that this car was not the real Land Rover, because it was a car built with a monohull structure. The frame was not the same that the one of the other models of the brand. Land Rover needed a universal model, which would be adapted to varied clienteles. A transition car, rather than a car intended for the specialists of Land Rover. It is thanks to this transition that we passed from a specialized brand to a general brand.

After that, you had the heavy task to offer a new youth to the Lincoln brand. Tell us about that experience

It was really instructive. This experience allowed me to become a real leader. I had to look over the whole organization, since I had, in a way, inherited a team. But afterward, as it was specified in my contract, I was able to complete this team by people who came from Germany for example, from the United States or still some of my collaborators from Land Rover. And we started by creating a vision for this brand, which was naturally accompanied by all the changes which must be operated. We also created a whole series of concept-cars and set up a new strategy for the brand. It was the only way to transform this brand, to bring it in sync with its time. You know, the average age of the clientele of the American brand was 70 years, without any exaggeration. That is why it was necessary to change all the models of the range to reach a new public. But what happened, finally, was that the senior manager, as well as his teams which supported me in my approach, eventually left the company. They were replaced by other people who had not at all the same vision. So it was made an end to it and for a designer, it is frustrating not to see its proposals evolving to become models of production.

In 2004, you returned to England, as Advanced Design Director of Land Rover. What motivated this return?

Simply the fqact that I like this brand. To be sincere, I had in fact two reasons, and the first one was my desire to return to England. After what did happen at Lincoln’s, I did not want to stay any more in the United States. When I returned, I started as a consultant in design in London. It is only then that Land Rover called on to me and I could not refuse, because I always believed in the potential of this brand to develop a more complete range. It is thus for these reasons that I returned to England.

Moreover, the expansion of the range had started with the Rover Evoke, which is a best-seller. Then, Tata bought the mark, but they let us the opportunity to define the strategy to be followed in the future. Mr. Tata decided that the department of design was going to be the most important department of the company. It is necessary to work in close collaboration with the engineers, certainly, but it did not mean that the design had to adapt itself, quite the opposite. When the design is determined, the engineers come into play. Thanks to this new strategy, we managed to reach a certain balance, where the mutual respect is very important. It is necessary to attract the public thanks to the design at first, because it really reflects the values of the brand and it allows you to differentiate yourself from the rest. For me, there are three important elements, when it comes to emotional design. When I see the car, do I want to buy it? Once I have acquired the vehicle, does it really fills its role? Finally, once the vehicle is mine, do I still like the design as much as I did before?

You brought many changes to Land Rover. Velar is going to be soon marketed. Tell us something about this model

What is for sure is that Velar is going to attract a new clientele. It can be owners of Evoque, who are in search of a little bigger vehicle or of the Rover Sport, who are looking for a smaller model. The brand will gain many new customers. It is a new Range Rover for a new target. People are in search of special cars, with an attractive design and with the last embarked technologies, which adapt themselves to their lifestyles. You know Land Rover has now three families of models, which are intended for different public, but in all our models, the values of the brand are perfectly represented.

Are you a collector?

I am a collector of design, rather than cars. I collect paintings, objects of art … I adore cars, but I do not collect them.

If Jaguar makes now SUV, is there any possibility that Land Rover makes
sedans or sportcars in the future?

Not at all. Every brand has its own values. Besides, as they are a member of the same group, it is necessary to pay attention to avoid cannibalization. Certainly, they can share platforms and take advantage of technological breakthroughs, but it is a process which takes time. It is really necessary to keep the spirit of the brand. The F-Pace for example is one 4×4, but it remains a Jaguar, above all. One must not be mistaken about the type of clientele.

Our last question: What is your favorite brand?

Range Rover, without any hesitation!


Gerry McGovern Gentlemen Drivers Magazine


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