Ex-Jaguar executive explains shock move to Chinese start-up

Mark Stanton with Jaguar XE SV Project 8

Stanton left Jaguar Land Rover for new Chinese company Human Horizons

Challenge of Human Horizons’ autonomy-rich HiPhi 1 lured top engineer to China

Mark Stanton was one of the big beasts in the British car industry. He built his career at Ford and Jaguar Land Rover, becoming JLR’s director of vehicle engineering and then head of its Special Vehicle Operations division

But he has joined the exodus of senior automotive talent to China, where he is now chief technical officer for bold EV start-up Human Horizons. 

The firm revealed its first car, the HiPhi 1, last month. A six-seat coupé-ish SUV with high levels of autonomy, it’s due on sale in China by 2021. But why did Stanton, 59, leave JLR’s high-performance arm to gamble on a Chinese start-up? 

“SVO was meant to be the pinnacle and to begin with it felt that way,” he said. “I don’t want to speak ill of JLR because I still have a passion for them and the product, but the frustrations grew and grew. It should have been a great swansong but it didn’t turn out that way… 

“I could have gone on another three or four years and retired, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to change direction and do something different.” 

Moving to China has been financially rewarding, but Stanton said he had offers from several manufacturers, two of which would have kept him in the UK. But he said: “I didn’t want to go and work for another big OEM. I didn’t want that management style and that baggage. I was looking for more freedom.” 

After meeting with Human Horizon co-founders Kevin Chen and Ding Lei, both of whom have worked with western brands in China, Stanton decided it was a match. 

He relocated to Shanghai last year and now leads a team of 400 engineers. “We could never have moved so quickly in any traditional OEM,” he said. 

Stanton said his contacts in the automotive supply base have been useful, with many components for the HiPhi 1 sourced from top-tier European firms. Those include Michelin low-rolling-resistance tyres, which, Stanton said, “aren’t widely available in China.” 

Stanton had another reason to switch to an EV-only firm: “I got religion, I guess.” Having been involved with JLR’s electrification programme, “the environmental side has become really important to me. Cars have been around for 110 years and I’ve been working in the industry for 35 years. During that time, I think I’ve made the world a worse place. I’ve been contributing to the problem [of emissions]. 

“Conventional OEMs are trying to move forward, but it is so difficult with everything else they need to do. It’s much easier to create a new world from scratch.” 

Asked how he squared that with his role at SVO, Stanton looked slightly uncomfortable – “yeah, there were a lot of V8s” – and said he doesn’t own a conventional car any more. 

He said he doesn’t know if Human Horizons will be one of the Chinese EV start-ups that breaks through, but he insists it has the funding and connections to succeed. “I’m in a lucky position because if it doesn’t work out, I don’t really suffer. I can retire and put my feet up,” he said. “But I want this to succeed, because we’ve got 1000 employees now and I want it to work for them.” 

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Opinion: China’s newest EV start-up is worth taking seriously​

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Source: Autocar Online

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