Electric Shock – Jaguar I-Pace

Is this the end of history? Well, it’s about time…

Image: Wired
Image: Wired

It’s the old story. You wait ages and then along comes two positive Jaguar news stories at once. First was the announcement that over the three months to September, global Jaguar sales rose 84%. It’s unclear at this point whether that translates into anything of significance, but yesterday’s announcement of the I-Pace concept at the Los Angeles motor show was a cat of an altogether different stripe. I’ll be honest with you, I-Pace is a shock, but not for the reasons you might imagine.

Former Jaguar Director of engineering, Jim Randle made the point to me recently that not only was the V12 engine the nearest thing to an electric motor Jaguar produced for public consumption, but also that his advanced engineering skunkworks had been well advanced with a gas turbine powered series hybrid as far back as the late 1980’s. Electrical propulsion, far from being some kind of band wagon jump is in fact, part of Jaguar’s heritage.

Colours! Materials! Shapes! I-Pace concept interior. Image: vortex-media
Colours! Materials! Shapes! I-Pace concept interior. Image: vortex media

For some time I’d been rather dubious about electric cars. I felt the arguments didn’t stack up in terms of energy generation, weight, longevity, range. But with a long-held and entirely idealistic loathing for diesel, I’m increasingly of the view that in the current climate the motor business has no real option but to go the Bob Dylan route.

A recent journey in an all-electric BMW i3 was a watershed moment. No, it’s not something you’d sit and admire on your driveway – (even if the design is intriguing) – those coach doors are just plain silly, it rides horribly and offers too much road excited noise, but the performance and the depth of really clever engineering it embodies won my deep admiration and yes, desire. Speaking to people in the industry who know far more about these thing than I also confirmed not only BMW’s bravery, but their thoroughness in the really tough areas of throttle modulation and control weighting. BMW have done their homework and I think I covet one.

Image: make me feed
Image: makemefeed

When I heard Jaguar were working on an advanced electric car concept, I really didn’t hold out much for it. But now that it has been revealed, I have to admit to being surprised, impressed, gob-smacked even. Some will say it doesn’t look like a Jaguar. I suppose by that they mean it doesn’t have the traditional long bonnet and flowing tail motif marque aficionados immediately associate with the Coventry Kitty, but I have no issue with that. Especially when the last three production cars to emerge from Whitley have been studies in water-treading.

No, for me at least, what is genuinely shocking about I-Pace is the realisation that Ian Callum and his design team have not been kidnapped and imposters planted in their stead. Because I-Pace has the sort of clean lines, solid stance and good proportions I had associated with Callum’s advanced studio until comparatively recently. Even the interior appears inviting. There are elements of CX-75 and F-Type in the silhouette and some of the detailing, but what I’m seeing more here are shades of the lovely 2003 RD-6 concept, a lost masterpiece in my view.

Image: New York Daily News
Image: New York Daily News

The trouble with electric cars is they generally aren’t lookers, are they? Tesla? Does nothing for me. I3? Wilfully odd. Porsche Mission E? Attractive, but unlikely to reach production in that form. Don’t even mention that Mercedes-Benz EQ thing they showed recently. Is this where I-Pace comes in? Well, that depends doesn’t it. It certainly looks like it wouldn’t take much toning down for production purposes. There aren’t even any silly coach doors to engineer out. But… here’s Ian Callum speaking to Autocar’s Steve Cropley about how closely the concept will resemble the production car that is expected in showrooms in about 18 months time; “There’s a bit of exaggeration in the haunches, the wheels are bigger, some of the radiuses are tighter and the interior is a bit more flamboyant. But fundamentally, the two aren’t very different.”

Image: Jaguar Land Rover
Image: Jaguar Land Rover

Now that statement worries me slightly. While Jaguar stylists largely carried off the transition from CX-16 concept to F-Type with scarcely recognisable changes – (actually they changed loads, but hid it well) – and managed something similar with F-Pace – (well, if you like that kind of thing anyway), the risk here is that JLR management, the people who signed off on the torpid XE/XF twins will bottle it and offer some watered down facsimile.

Executed well, I-Pace offers Jaguar a great opportunity to open a new dialogue with customers about where brand Jaguar goes next. JLR management must remember that the primary purpose of a challenger brand is to offer a challenge. Jaguars need to speak of tomorrow rather than a past that only keeps coming back to bite them. Time to to take Shirley off repeat, Dr. Speth. Time for a new tune.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

32 thoughts on “Electric Shock – Jaguar I-Pace”

  1. In the first seconds I saw a photo, with no idea of its powertrain, my reaction was that, oh dear, Jaguar have felt obliged to go the stupid X6 SUV coupe route. But looking again, and realising what it is, I do quite like this.

    Although I share Eoin’s concern about the differences Callum hints at for the production version (is the interior shown really too ‘elaborate’ to go into production), I’m not sure that it wouldn’t benefit from some watering down in some areas when it goes into production. But it probably won’t be to the things I don’t like. I could do without the Van Acker sports shoe sole lower door treatment and surely, if a Tesla manages without a multitude of orifices and F1 style ‘aero’, this doesn’t need them all. And there’s the obligatory Callum side vent – but no Giorgetto, they haven’t done it on the other side too, so I guess my comment that it is probably functionless, might not be so.

  2. I fail to see why any electric needs a space consuming centre console. This idea of separating the driver has been around for over fifty years now and was physically dictated when seating was lowered, drivelines ran down the middle and someone decided to make it a style feature.
    I applaud the BMW i3 solution as it doesn’t connect with the dash/facia panel.
    Another fail in my opinion are the over sized wheels which do provide correct scale to a rather tall car but very little tyre sidewall in real world conditions.
    While the i-pace may look exciting under the spotlights like a lot of current designs, in private ownership they are a pain to keep in pristine condition. I may be one of a dying breed who regularly cleans and leathers my steed but the thought of maintaining this design is a resounding ,not likely!

    1. As regards cleaning, although I’m ashamed to say I’m not a great car cleaner, I made a similar comment about the Toyota featured yesterday. Too many dirt traps!

      And, D Gatewood is quite right pointing out that the Jaguar, like many EVs, and indeed like FWD vehicles before them, still follows the centre console trope of the Panhard System. I like the iPace for pragmatic reasons, wishing Jaguar well, but I could wish its detailing spoke more of its drivetrain.

      Or are we going to find that the iPace ends up being a conventional car when it is brought into production. Jaguar do have form on disappointing after all.

    2. That´s a good point, though it is a nice interior. It is also the nice interior of any ICE car. However, while it might be intellectually correct to remove the centre console, maybe customers just won´t accept it. For the next model they could try it. As it is Jaguar are asking the customers to accept a whole new drivetrain. Adding a challenging new interior concept might be too much for one model cycle.

    3. Isn’t the centre console/transmission tunnel occupied by batteries? Where are the batteries located on that Jaguar? I know that’s the place for batteries in cars like the Fisker and Tesla and Chevy Volt. Better to stash that weight low and inside the wheelbase and centred for better handling…

  3. Eóin, I feel very similarly to yourself about this design and also immediately saw the ghost of the RD6 in its taut,clean and sheer surfaces. I also fear that the transition from concept to production design will mean that it loses this essence. I read somewhere that the cause of loss of sharp definition of metal surfaces in this way tends to be inadequate ‘finite element analysis’ in creating moulds and presses for metal panels. Apparently, the MGF would have looked far more ‘rigid’ if Rover had worked harder at this when productionising the design of the ingeniously conceived little mid-engines roadster.

  4. I think the designers have done rather well here. It’s a snub-nosed, tallish 5 door hatchback which still manages to look ‘like a Jaguar’, which is some achievement.

    The cabin is attractive, and while Ian Callum will probably bemoan the use of wood, its treatment here is clever. As for the centre console… the electric ‘skateboard’ drivetrain gives designers new possibilities in terms of cabin layout, but so long as the driver is physically required, it’s hard to break away from the two seats upfront layout. In which case, what else do you do with that space between the seats? The driver needs somewhere to rest their elbow, and more storage space is welcome.

    1. “I think the designers have done rather well here. It’s a snub-nosed, tallish 5 door hatchback which still manages to look ‘like a Jaguar’, which is some achievement.”

      I’m sorry, but I don’t see that at all. Take away the grille and the rear lights, and this car could come from anywhere. Postitively Italian or Japanese. It could be an Alfa Romeo or Nissan or anything from a more non descript studio like Idea or Centro Stile. Mostly, it looks like an anodyne Infinty without much going for it. Take away the nose and tail and concentrate on the center section. What in all of those anonymous lines spell Jaguar to you?

    2. I have no problem with space between the seats being used for storage, armrest and a palm dial navigation mouse but disagree it should extend to the floor and facia/dash just to isolate the driver or to perpetuate this style for the sake of it.
      As far as I’m aware the Volt and previous Ampera are the only two electrics with battery packs down the centre dictating a separation of passengers the others having adopted a skateboard approach.

  5. So the rumours were spot on. This goes a long way to explain why Jaguar’s recent ICE passenger cars have been conservative plays. Any way you slice it, this is a bet the farm move by JLR.

    To my eyes it looks terrific. Whilst certain parts are pure concept (the roof being the biggest example), I would be very surprised if the production car varies hugely from that shown. As for technology, Jaguar is apparently bringing an improved battery to the table. Hopefully they can iron out any software kinks before launch.

  6. High beltlines have never been a part of the Jaguar heritage. In fact, they had the lowest belt lines in the industry. That’s what strikes me with the XJ6 and XJS and also the XJ40, how incredibly low to the ground they really are. And that’s why the X350 was such a disappointment, it really looks like someone took a bunch of Jaguar design cues, inflated them and attached them to a different car. The entire beltline of that car is an entire decimeter or more too high off the ground. It just doesn’t look right. And the same it’s been with every Jaguar ever since, with this car just more so. I just don’t know what’s supposed to be Jaguar about it….

    1. Ingvar. In their pictures of the ‘skateboard’ chassis, the batteries are supposed to be beneath the flat floor.

      I agree with a lot of what you say about the idea that a ‘proper’ Jaguar should be low. But people just don’t want low cars any more it seems. Or ones with big windows. It would be nice if someone had the courage to try and reverse the trend, or just make themselves a niche market for people who wanted something different, but I guess it won’t be struggling Jaguar.

    2. I disagree. Except for the large ones like Mk VII-IX and the Mk X/420G, most Jaguar sedans have been closed couple sport sedans or saloons in English, what we call a four door coupe these days. The Mercedes CLS is the best Jaguar that Daimler ever built. There is a market for a sports sedan, the entire success of BMW is depending on it. But Jaguar has never been able of capitalizing on their own success…

    3. Ingvar. What I mean is that, when it comes to production vehicles, Jaguar is unfortunately rather meek. Its only distinctive saloon of recent years has been the XJ, and that hasn’t done well. Mercedes could afford to take a gamble, but Jaguar feel they can’t. Which is a pity. I wish it were otherwise.

    4. In my view, the argument for low cars has been lost. For a whole host of reasons, customers prefer a taller seating position and ease of access. It isn’t what I’d normally associate with the products of Jaguar, but I think we have to assume that the idea JLR will return to a traditional Jaguar architecture is as fanciful as their engineers ever taking NVH seriously again. We’re simply not in Kansas anymore Toto.

      This design has required a certain degree of recalibration on my part, but despite the gaps in its narrative, I’m more prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt for now than all this XE/XF/X-Pace nonsense that masquerade as Jaguars now.

      Let’s all call them Triumphs from now on. It would be a more accurate reading of the matter, even if it would have poor old Harry Webster spin in his grave…

    5. That works for me. I see more Triumph Dolomite in those lines than Jaguar. It’s something about the stance and everything being upright…

  7. Bring back bench front seats! Well maybe not for a luxury vehicle.

    That Jaguar leaper on the steering wheel hub doesn’t work aesthetically, does it?

    1. Certainly true John. Bill Lyons of course understood that leapers were only to be positioned with their heads facing the front of the car, suggesting forward movement. In other places (grilles, steering wheels) he used a front face head. Or just ‘Jaguar’. This is undoubtedly correct and we’ve pointed it out several times but, unfortunately, Ian Callum’s subscription to Drive To Write seems to have expired and he sees fit to plaster leapers anywhere. If you can’t get the small details right …..

    2. You’re right. It looks like it’s trying to escape out of the side window.

      The thought of cats escaping is anxiety-inducing. Anxiety is not a ‘premium’ feeling, much less a luxury.

  8. Articles about Jaguar inevitably prompt a wave of hand-wringing about whether their current direction is befitting to the company’s storied history. I am to a degree sympathetic: to me a Jaguar will always be long and low, with a comfy interior and a performance bias.

    The sad fact is that tastes have changed. The prestige market is increasingly CUV shaped. Bought for their visibility, a lordly seating position and their capability in reserve, CUVs generate the bulk of manufacturer’s profits. Conversely, people are increasingly unwilling to plonk down sums on large saloons with small boots and low seating positions, which are now as saleable as a skip full of burning Hankook tyres.

    Pulling back to looking at the big picture over a longer term, Jaguar knows that its traditional heartland of sports cars and sporting saloons is in terminal decline. If driving pleasure was a prime motivator of sales, Mazda would be a top ten manufacturer. BMW are for the most part no longer a purveyor of Ultimate Driving Machines. In a context where a third of young drivers in the USA no longer have a driving licence, sports cars are a tiny niche unprofitable to anyone other than Porsche. Cars are now overly complicated white goods bought by people to fulfil a need, nothing more.

    Jaguar’s recent launches reveal a three-pronged strategy. The F-Type is a conservative play to capture what remains of the monied sports car market. Its technical specification and unoptimised nature (no aluminium car should be THAT heavy) smack of budgetary expediency.

    Second up, the XE and F-Pace are deeply conservative designs fielded to amortise costs and create volume. Job done.

    Then we have the I-Pace. This could be a game changer on any number of fronts. Building on the groundwork laid by Tesla, EVs in general and the I-Pace in particular have the potential to reshape consumer expectations, in the process breaking the headlock that German manufacturers have on the ICE-powered prestige market. CUVs have been superb business for those manufacturers who got in early with the right products. The I-Pace could be to Jaguar what the Qashqai has been to Nissan, serving to shake up a deeply entrenched market.

    So I ask you now: which Jaguar do you want to see? A rolling heritage collection? Or a company that looks to the future? Those are your choices, and they are that stark.

    1. Well put Chris. My only query is to ask if your statistic about 1/3 of young drivers in the US not having a driving licence should have read ‘potential young drivers’ or whether the US has become even more scary to me that it became last Wednesday?

    2. Since Trump was elected you don’t need a licence, you simply pull someone out of their car and drive off, Grand Theft Auto style.

    3. I disagree. If the way forward for the brand means diluting it to non existence, perhaps going head on against the Germans isn’t what it’s supposed to be. Think of Jaguar as a brand, and what it does best. Is the goal of being a full line car maker really the best way forward? Or is it really a niche brand and has always been? And perhaps it would be better to keep it that way instead of going after numbers they will never be able to match or catch.

      They will never have the resources of BMW or Mercedes or Audi(VW). They will always play catch up. They will always be a day late and a pound short. They will always benchmark their products to the current competition. What if they concentrated their brand on what they really did best, that special Jaguar feeling that nobody has been able of replicate.

      I had this thought about GM before they went bust. They had too many brands. But all of their brands was also full line productions. Perhaps burying Oldsmobile and Pontiac wasn’t really the best way forward, perhaps they could’ve been kept as niche brands. You really don’t need five brands with similar cars, but niche brands with complementing cars.

      What if the Chevy Volt has been born the Oldsmobile Toronado? What would’ve stopped GM from selling all their cars from the same franchise? Why not have a full Chevy line up with a couple of complementing Pontiacs? Pontiac doesn’t have to be a full line brand, it only has to be what it does better than Chevy. Why couldn’t they just scrap all the overlap and concentrating on being a conglomerate of niches? Chevy trucks and Cadillacs are bought by the same people. Why not use Pontiac to make a contrast and try out new things. And so on and so forth…

      Jaguar is missing the boat because they think they have to be all things to all people, or at least be a contender to the people that buy German. But in that they flushed away everything that made the brand unique in the first place. If they continue like this, they will make themselves irrelevant, because there won’t be a reason for people to buy their cars over something the Germans make better anyway. They had something, and the lost it…

    4. Ingvar: I don’t disagree with you that Jaguar had something and then lost it. Manufacturers live and die by the success of individual models, but as a brand they are perceived as a continuum: the past informs the present, which in turn informs the future. The terrific articles here on DTW about Jaguar’s history illustrate that the company’s progress has been too haphazard to maintain that continuum. Behind the scenes, the Jaguar of today has little to do with the Jaguar of the 1980s, which itself only contained scraps of the Lyons era. In effect Jaguar has become a series of epochs, not all of them related and not all of them good.

      Ford’s product planning let down Jaguar severely, but Tata at least picked up a company highly rigorous in its engineering development and budgeting. The business case for their current line up is either wafer thin (F-Type, XF) or non-existent (XJ, XK). In that context, Jaguar has no option but to roll the dice, pushing into volume segments and taking a big punt on EVs.

      That said, I still maintain that there is life in the XJ, but not in its current form. Jaguar need to offer a modern take on the classic Sir William Lyons XJ: long, low, with romantic shapes and an interior clothed in wood and leather. Bertone’s B99 concept shows the form it could take, whilst Jaguar’s own F-Type and indeed Porsche’s 911 demonstrate that classic-revisionism can create steady business. Such a car could create perhaps 20,000 sales a year at £100k apiece. Jaguar only need summon the will to make it and charge people enough for the privilege.

    5. The current production car closest to a traditional XJ is arguably the BMW 6 series Gran Coupé, and that apparently isn’t a sustainable model itself. I wish it was different, but that’s the sad truth.

  9. I think all of us are right here. I agree with Ingvar that, were Jaguar my company (as in were I Ratan Tata) I would want to do something brave and different, a sink or swim strategy. The market has too many samey cars and, longer-term, it can’t go on justifying that sort of investment for that homogenous a product. At the moment everyone seems to want a chunky SUV and, if all the manufacturers pooled their resources, they could give us a single vehicle that was both better and cheaper than any currently on offer – but of course that is not going to happen.

    But, after all those years in the near wilderness, Jaguar can’t afford to play the long game. They need imminent success to bolster their future, fearful maybe that, otherwise, Tata will pull the plug. And, in view of that, to them towing the conservative line seems best. But those are business decisions, and here we’re right to abhor them if we wish.

  10. Jaguars have always been aspirational purchases, something to buy when the knitting machine business was doing well. So we must ask ourselves, what cars do people aspire to these days? The answer is, increasingly, not a Jaguar.

    Love ’em or loathe ’em, an SUV has become the primary focus of vehicular aspiration. JLR have been fortunate here: buoyant Range Rover sales are more than keeping JLR afloat.

    Everything else is fighting over scraps. If you want a sports car, Porsche will sell you a 911. Want a fast saloon with a cushy interior? Mercedes E or S-Class. Want a touring coupé? What am I saying, nobody wants a touring coupé.

    To make a blunt point, Jaguar’s target market got old, and then it died. This is what happens when you only ever look to the past. Jaguar management are now forced into the position of being pragmatic with some plays and bold with others. Hopefully one or both gambles will pay off.

    1. Very interesting debate here, guys. Thanks for all the complementing views, it really is a complex issue, isn’t it? I just love discussions like this, with such a high level of knowledge and experience, it really makes for a nuanced answer to a very complex issue…

      Perhaps it’s just my romantic nostalgia talking, but my hard stance is grounded in the fact I love the brand, and that I expect more from them than they can really deliver at the moment…

      But I’d say there’s a hard case for them going for less but “better” sales as a niche brand. Both Maserati and Bentley are pushing 20k sales a year, and is doing very good business of doing so. I say there’s a risk Jaguar expands itself out of resources in a futile game of keeping up with the Germans in the 100k+ sales game. The Bertone B99 was definitely the way to go, and it’s a pity they didn’t pick that one up.

    2. While it serves JLR’s purposes to refer to Jaguar’s storied heritage when it suits them, I would imagine there are plenty of times when Dr. Speth and his cohorts wished the crushing weight of history wasn’t so manifest in the National Motor Museum’s Jaguar Collections Centre just across the way from JLR towers at Gaydon.

      That Bertone B99 just won’t lie down and die will it? I imagine Ian Callum has developed an involuntary twitch whenever it’s brought up in conversation. It’s easy to see why people like it. It speaks to those who have been left behind by the Callum revolution. Personally, I don’t really know what I make of it – I would need to give it the full Bob Knight treatment and study it in detail under decent lighting for a good hour before I could form a balanced opinion. I do think there is a place in Jaguar’s range for a car that speaks to that yearning, but I don’t believe there is any point now in referring back to the ’68 XJ. Too much time has elapsed and as a styling trope, X350 wrung it dry. But more than any other reason, it would be (rightly or wrongly) viewed as an admission of failure.

      In my view the only viable path for Jaguar now is radical. I-Pace may not be the answer, but for me it stands as an encouraging starting point. Perhaps the first one I’ve seen for some time.

  11. I disagree that the B99 was the way to go for Jaguar, but that doesn’t make the current range of saloons any less disappointing (X351 excepted).

    Being brave is fine and dandy, but it usually only pays off in areas that are in demand anyway. One could argue that Tesla is doing fine with what is actually an old-hat large executive saloon, but that’s merely disguising the fact that Tesla hasn’t learned how to make money through selling cars (yet) and that the Model S’ success has made life more difficult for non-S-class executive saloons, which would include Jaguar’s offering.

    So, in a nutshell, I’m basically in agreement with Dr Speth’s assessment that the ‘crossover’ sector is where being brave might pay. I’m also surprisingly contempt with how this I-pace has turned out. This is simply the most convincing piece of Jaguar styling since the C-X75 was unveiled back in the day. My faith in Scottish designers and Purity Of Line has been somewhat restored.

    Now, as for that next-generation electric XJ…

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