DETROIT – It’s time for Jaguar Cars to “grow up” and stand on its own four wheels, the auto maker’s top designer says.

“We’re not going to be coddled by this big corporation anymore,” Ian Callum says of Ford Motor Co., which sold the iconic British brand, along with Land Rover, to India’s Tata Motors Ltd. last year for $2.3 billion.

“To a certain extent, it’s fair to say Ford looked after us,” Callum tells Ward’s in an interview. “We did sometimes feel a little like the protected child. No more. That’s gone.”

It’s hard to pinpoint what makes life under Tata so different from Ford, he says, especially given the fact the global economic recession began shortly after the change in ownership. “So it’s really difficult to decipher what’s causing the difference in our working habits right now.”

In some ways, Jaguar has returned to its roots as a niche vehicle maker known for elegant styling and understated luxury. Now, with an “entrepreneurial spirit” driving the company, Callum says it is time to once again play to the brand’s strengths and think outside the box.

“We all know the best way to survive at the moment is innovation,” he says.

With the full support of Tata’s upper management, Callum and his team are working to create a family identity for the brand. Under Ford ownership, Jaguars ranged from the oft-criticized midsize X-Type to the classically styled XJ luxury sedan.

“When you think of Jaguar before, even the names have confusion about them,” he says.

The desire to craft a base DNA led to the decision on how to style the new ’10 XJ, which represents a radical departure from the outgoing model. The new model shares design cues with the well-received XF sports sedan but also includes some elements from past Jaguars.

“The grille is from the ’68 XJ but interpreted in a more modern, contemporary way,” Callum says.

Although some questioned Jaguar’s move away from the classic XJ design, there was no internal resistance from management. “We’ve broken with tradition, we had to,” he says. “It wasn’t sustainable.”

With the new XJ scheduled to arrive at U.S. dealerships next spring, and the XF already on the market, Jaguar’s design transformation is beginning to take shape. However, Callum says it likely will be two to three years before it is fully realized.

Callum hopes the design language will redefine the way consumers view Jaguar.

“I don’t want people to think of Jaguar as a heritage-driven English car company,” he says, but rather a “modern forward-thinking British car company, with less emphasis on the British and more on the modern.”

The decision to deemphasize its regional heritage may appear counterproductive in a global market where auto makers are struggling to stand out in a crowd, but that’s not the way Callum views it. “The ‘nationalistic thing’ is not relevant anymore,” he says.

“We live in a global village, where all of what were distinctive parts of our cultures have merged together much more. I don’t think you can distinguish what is distinctly German or Japanese or British or American. You can in subtleties, but not absolute terms.”

Looking to the future, Callum says he would like to see Jaguar produce an A- or B-segment car, although he admits there are “people I know within Jaguar that would probably disagree with me.”

Size, he says, is irrelevant, citing the Mini brand as an example of small cars demanding premium prices. “It would be something quite different in its own space, but I don’t know what that would be because we’ve never designed anything like that. I think there’s a place for it.”

bpope@wardsauto.com