Your name is Ian Callum. You are the design chief at Jaguar.
Your mission is to advance Jaguar's decades-old signature styling cues defined by classics such as the XKE, Mark II and XJ6, and make the design equivalent of a giant leap into the 21st century.
If successful, your restless, but still loyal, customers will make the leap with you, Jaguar will attract new buyers and Ford Motor Co., your financially challenged parent company, will be off your back.
If you are not well, we won't go there.
So where do you take Jaguar design?
You return to a strong focus on stance and proportion, zeroing in on creating cars with lines and surfaces so sensuous that they will make potential customers want to reach out and touch them. You give the lineup more of a unified look.
But you must do all of it within a set of design values that are part of Jaguar's brand DNA.
The new XK sports car that debuts at the Frankfurt auto show this week is important for two reasons. It is the first Jaguar production car that Callum has penned, so you can bet he'll be watching the reviews closely. But more importantly, Jaguar desperately needs a hit in showrooms. Jaguar has been swimming in red ink, and sales are in a tailspin. U.S. sales have slid 30.6 percent through August compared with the year-ago period.
The XK shows where Callum is taking Jaguar design. You'll see fewer dramatic curves and crisper, angular lines melding into smooth, gentle bends to give the car a taut, muscular look. Big beefy wheels fill the wells and are pushed to the corners.
The E-Type Roadster, which was produced in the early 1960s, is easily recognizable as a Jaguar. Current design chief Ian Callum says the proportion of Jaguar cars "has to be better than everyone else."
"It is all the more disappointing in that the Jaguar design team is so much better than this car shows," he said. "It shouts of unimaginative focus group feedback to marketers who lacked the courage to let the designers do their jobs without restraint."
Callum, 51, won't give details of future models he is creating. But he will discuss his design philosophy and vision for Jaguar.
Jaguar founder William Lyons defined the company's design DNA, Callum says. And his predecessor, Geoff Lawson, refined it. Now, Callum says, it is his job to redefine and advance it.
Coming from Aston Martin, Callum took over in 1999 after Lawson died suddenly. Lawson led Jaguar's design staff since 1984 and was the last designer with links to Lyons, who died in 1985.
Lawson is responsible for the looks of today's XK8 sports car, the S-Type and XJ sedans - all cars that were greeted with enthusiasm. They sold well initially, but sales have faltered in recent years. Retro styling has proved to have a fairly short shelf life.
When he took over, Callum knew that Jaguar's designs had to change. Concept cars such as the RD6 and the R Coupe, though never intended for production, were early warning shots from Callum.
He says those cars were meant to signal to the automotive world that Jaguar's design would, finally be moving on again, just like it did when Lyons ran Jaguar.
"When I first arrived here, I showed the board seven Jaguars," Callum says by phone in Coventry, England. "There were about three or four years between each of the cars. They were pretty different cars. They really jumped and moved on each time. That moving on, that excitement, was very much what Lyons was about
"Although Lyons respected the past, he was never beholden to the past. That's the way I see it as well. Lyons designed cars that fit the time, and that's what Jaguars of the next generation will actually do."
How Jaguar ended up going from a company that made some of the industry's most beautiful cars in the 1950s through the early 1970s to one desperately in need of a hit is complex.
Somewhere, perhaps in the turmoil of Jaguar's corporate history, design evolution stopped dead in its tracks. The company had its most creative years when it was independent. Then came 1968 and the massive, failed British Leyland merger, which caged Jaguar until 1984, when it was once again independent. Five years later, Ford Motor bought Jaguar.
Ford's priorities were to improve Jaguar's vehicle quality, install modern production equipment and give the automaker modern technology. The idea was to unite Jaguar's elegant style with world-class quality and technology.
While all of that was going on, Jaguar's styling cues began to run their course because of age and copying. Even Ford is guilty of that.
When Jaguar showed the Advanced Lightweight Coupe - from which the new XK is derived - at the Detroit auto show in January, some of the criticism perfectly illustrated Jaguar's plight.
Some critics said the car's oval grille, with its horizontal bar and Jaguar logo in the center, looked a lot like the current grille on the Ford Taurus. But Jaguar fans and those with a sense of design history recognized the show car's grille as a modern version of the one from the XKE of the early 1960s.
During the next few years, Callum will completely rework the S-Type, the XJ sedan and possibly the compact X-Type or its successor. There also could be other cars in the pipeline, such as a small, stripped-down sports car to compete with the Porsche Boxster and Audi TT.
Future Jaguars, Callum says, will have more of a unified look than today's cars, perhaps sharing common design themes for things such as the grille, bumpers and taillights.
Those who are familiar with Jaguar's design history and who have followed Callum's career can see clearly what direction he has taken with the new XK. And they think it is the right way to go.
Dutch Mandel, editor of AutoWeek, Automotive News' sister publication, believes the new XK will be a breakthrough car for Jaguar. He believes that while the design pays homage to the past, it is not an overblown rehash of what already has been done.
"The great thing about the XK is that it is the first car from Jaguar in a long time that is evocative of its history," says Mandel, who owns a 1960s XKE.
Jaguar dealer Mike Collier believes the new XK is going to attract customers looking for edgier designs.
"It's going to help it be more competitive in the marketplace," says Collier, whose family owns Collier Jaguar in Orlando, Fla.
"In the 1980s, the looks alone drove sales," Collier says.
Now he thinks Jaguar can stake its claim in today's competitive market by uniting great looks with cutting-edge technology.
Collier cites the lightweight aluminum body of the XJ sedan as an example. The extensive use of aluminum enables the car to go faster on less fuel than competitors' cars. "It just blisters everything else in terms of fuel economy," Collier says.
Ultimately, Jaguar design is all about proportion and stance, Callum says.
"The proportion of a Jaguar has to be better than everyone else," he says. "It's the emotional starting point. And part of that proportion is the stance."
Callum says one reason why Jaguar's classics of the 1950s and 1960s are riveting even today is because Lyons and his team of designers nailed the stance and proportion.
"The 1968 XJ6 was just a brilliant piece of design that was about proportion," he says. "That's the car I looked at for two hours in a cold Aberdeen, (Scotland), street, believe or not, staring into the window of a showroom when it first came out. It was a metallic red XJ6. I just absorbed what was making this car look so good.
"It was fundamentally about proportion. It was about stance. It was about wheel size, which were the biggest in the world at that time. That car was just so right for the age. And it has lasted. It's still a beautiful car."
Future Jaguars designed by Callum won't copy the style of the company's classics, but they will strive to get to that same hallowed ground as the XKE and others so they pass the test of time.
"When I look back on my career when it is all done, I'd like to look at all the cars I have worked on and think, 'Yeah, that fits better than any other car on the road," he says. "If it is absolutely right when it comes out, it will always be right."