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