The butcher's boy at the cutting edge of car design
His dad is a butcher, but the young Galwayman has found a meaty role as the head of the new Peugeot design lab
CITROËN HAS undergone a design revolution in the past decade, reviving the DS range while creating an avant-garde appeal to the French brand. One of the instigators of this revolution has been a softly spoken Galwayman whose talent has taken him to the head of its sister company Peugeot’s new design centre.
We meet on the Peugeot stand at the recent Paris Motor Show, where alongside the latest cars sits a funky new grand piano. It’s the first official delivery from the firm’s new design centre. And it was created under the watchful eye of a talented young man from Oranmore.
Cathal Loughnane takes his seat among a throng of Peugeot staff and clients in the firm’s private cafe at the back of the stand. His Irish accent remains intact despite more than a decade in Paris, although when speaking with colleagues his French seems word-perfect.
“I have to magnify my Irishness for the French, the English and the Germans,” he says.
He might be mixing it with the cultured style gurus in the design capital of Europe, but Loughnane comes across as someone who could mix as easily down the local in his hometown as among the Parisian sophisticates.
Despite his youthful appearance, his design credentials in the motoring world are impeccable. He has styled numerous interiors for Citroën production models and the innards of the C-Cactus concept, a hatchback that heralded the rugged look for the likes of the DS4. He has worked alongside the designer Gilles Vidal during his 13 years at the firm. Vidal is now head of all car design for the Citroen and Peugeot brands and the man to whom Loughnane reports directly.
Yet despite this motoring pedigree, Loughnane’s roots are more in meat than motoring.
“My father was a butcher in Galway, Sean Loughnane’s in Foster Court. Now my two brothers have taken over, and they have a sausage-manufacturing company on the Tuam Road making Loughnane Sausages. If you’ve ever had Aldi sausages then you’ve eaten them already. They don’t tell me about the business, but their houses are much bigger than mine.
“Basically, my grandfather was a butcher, uncles were butchers, cousins are butchers. I’m the only male Loughnane who doesn’t cut meat for a living, or work in a hotel or in the food industry.”
Following secondary school at St Joseph’s in Galway, he went on to study mechanical engineering at DIT on Bolton Street.
“During the last two years there the guys from Gowan Distributors had this experimental communications thing. They took some engineers, some architects, mechanics – all the sort of ancillary car design people – and made them design cars. I designed the world’s ugliest taxi and somehow won the competition the first year. As part of it, Citroën sent a designer over every two weeks to guide us. Then at the end someone at the press conference asked if I wanted to be a car designer. I said, ‘God, yes, and I’ve got nothing to do this summer.’ The designer from Citroën at the event didn’t understand that I was only half-serious and went off and tried to organise an internship for me. I forgot all about the off-the-cuff comment, but when I came back in October they said, ‘We’re really sorry we couldn’t organise the internship, but we will see what we can do for the future.’ I didn’t even know they had tried.