No Resistance

As Tesla outsells its German flagship market rivals on home turf, have we reached that much anticipated watershed or are the majors about to nick Elon’s lunch money as he’s about to cash in?

Everybody say Ohm. Image credit: Tesla

Last week it was reported that European sales of the Tesla Model S outstripped those of the German luxury flagship saloons for the first time, marking an alleged pivot point for the adoption and acceptance of electric vehicles across the region. A watershed moment perhaps or simply sensationalist reporting?

Fair question, because firstly there is some conjecture as to whether the Model S is a direct rival to the S-Class Mercedes and its ilk, especially when Elon Musk himself describes it more as an E-Class and Five Series competitor. Sizewise, Musk is broadly correct, but in terms of price, he most certainly isn’t. But regardless of which segment of the market it’s aimed, for a section of society who have the financial wherewithal to develop what can only be loosely construed as a social conscience, the Model S is for the time being, the only show in town.

It can hardly be lost on anyone that not every affluent Tesla owner is concerned about exhaust emissions, to say nothing of the future of the planet. EV drivers of every stripe also benefit from generous subsidies either at the design phase, the point of manufacture, or in terms of tax breaks at the point of purchase and the waiving of access restrictions to city centres. Tesla, it could be argued, has benefited from all of the above.

Furthermore, sales figures for the limousine sector in Europe are not as dire as recent reports suggest, with an overall rise in 2017 of 13% according to the number-crunchers at Carsalesbase. And while, apart from Audi and Porsche, all the major players saw falls last year, it was the latter’s performance, on the back of the latest Panamera model that has seen the sector outperform 2016’s figures. Intriguingly however, Autocar last week reported that of the Panamera’s 11,000 global sales last year, 50% were for the E-Hybrid version. Make of that what you will.

In the US market, Tesla has also gained sales both on domestic rivals such as Cadillac and on German imports, but the reported 9% uplift for the Model S should be viewed within the wider trend downwards for the limousine sector. As with Europe, all the major players with the exception of Porsche, Genesis and Cadillac posted falls, as large saloon sales come under increasing strain from luxury SUVs and crossovers.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s position as the only pure electric upmarket player looks set to come under unprecedented attack with European carmakers preparing a slew of luxury EVs, the first of which to be revealed this week. Having banked on the shift towards electric drive being both gradual and measured, the widespread and growing backlash against diesel has seen the majors in frantic rearguard action to respond to Elon Musk’s well-timed shot across their respective bows.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this paradigm-shift is the identity of the first of the big-name upmarket brands to show its hand: Jaguar. Not only is this in itself surprising but also as Automotive News reported last week, the car itself is increasingly being viewed across the wider industry as something of a touchstone, not just for Jaguar and JLR but for the way in which electric cars will increasingly be shaped.

New Jag generation. Image credit: the car magazine

Widely lauded for being the first production EV to overtly employ its architecture to inform the car’s visual language, both i-Pace’s proportions, with its minimal overhangs and emphasis on the passenger compartment and its surfacing, which some design commentators have suggested is Jaguar’s finest since the ‘Billy Lyons era mean that JLR are not only about to announce their most important new model ever, but perhaps the first Jaguar-branded car that can be classed as a game changer since the debut of the XJ-series a half-century ago.

What is evident here is that this is a hugely important model for JLR as a whole and for Jaguar as a subsidiary business. For JLR, it represents a huge investment in the future viability of the British-based carmaker and for Jaguar themselves, it’s nothing short of a matter of survival.

Also clear is that despite the errors that have seen Jaguar’s expensively developed XE and XF saloon models both lose over 30% of sales volume in 2017, with commensurate impacts on break-even points and viability, JLR chief, Dr. Ralph Speth has made a clear-sighted and frankly, brave decision to press ahead with electrifying the leaping cat.

Because if electric-drive should (at least theoretically) fit any marque, it’s Jaguar, with its former commitment to quiet running, which saw ultimate expression in the peerless mechanical refinement of the Hassan / Mundy V12 power unit. Coupled to this is the recent news that Jaguar will launch a pure-electric XJ replacement in about a year’s time. Because if indeed the wind direction is shifting irrefutably towards EVs, this once again gives JLR a march on their German rivals.

But unlike Tesla, which has so far at least been able to rely upon the seemingly bottomless pockets of their investors and some generous US government subsidies, JLR appear to be going all-in. With Jaguar, and later this year, Audi entering the fray, life could start getting even more complicated at Palo Alto.

A visual metaphor, but for whom? Image credit: evobsession

Later this week we will see for ourselves how many brave pills Dr Speth has ingested when the production i-Pace is revealed. But regardless of how closely it resembles its conceptual forebear, it’s clear that as the polarity shifts away from the familiar and safe, everybody – Tesla included, will be entering uncharted waters.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

9 thoughts on “No Resistance”

  1. I’ve read that supercapacitors are set to make lithium ion battery storage outdated technology.
    Is it true ?.

  2. Anyway you cut it, Tesla has delivered a huge shock to the luxury market.

    A 5m long hatchback from an upstart American manufacturer should – by the established rules of the game – have no right to outsell the established ‘premium’ titans. What do the management teams at Lexus and Infiniti (both of whom diligently played the game, albeit in the case of Lexus leading the way with hybrid tech) make of this?

    Good luck to Jaguar. The I Pace looks great in my view. Let’s hope the company’s habit of making overblown claims for its products is not true here, because they might just have a winner here.

  3. That “metaphor” is surely a hearse.
    It’s a steady niche market to be sure, but undertakers don’t need all the pace and range — and expense — of a Tesla. Almost any existing e-car could be adapted.

    1. Very true but they have traditionally chosen up market ice brands for that last ride, Remetz seems to have created a first in this Tesla. An EV is ideal for this kind of work, silent, low maintenance, non polluting, travels known distances, and I believe will become normal.

  4. Meanwhile, toggling back to reality, Toyota announced new engines today, along with concomitant transmissions, a new hybrid and two new AWD systems. 40% thermal efficiency, better than most thermal power stations.

    By contrast Volvo clambered up on a eco-pulpit and announced that their current rather nasty 4 cylinder petrol engine will be their last. Good, it’s not a nice one, nor is it very economical.

    Let’s be realistic and grant Toyota ten times the street cred of Volvo. They’ve been making real hybrids for 20 years, and if anyone executes them better in terms of efficiency, I’ve not heard of it. So when Toyota say IC engines are going to be made for 25 or 30 years, I believe them. They want better batteries which they are developing themselves ( so-called solid state), they have reduced cobalt use in electric motor magnets by 50%, they have the best fuel cell EV system, etc. They are covered no matter what and seem quite calm. They also produce long-lasting reliable product with minimal factory robotics yet very low costs, because they don’t jump on some headline trend, they get on with the job and reason their way to a logical end.

    I thus regard the general bleating, running around like chickens with their heads newly chopped off, and the elbowing and jostling to get into the media spotlight by various manufacturers touting their all-electric wonderfulness, as the actions of execs who are thoroughly confused and agitated. They’re all worried about getting left behind by Something or Other, and what it is they’re not sure of. So babble mindlessly they must.

    Seems to be no panic at Toyota, merely measured reasoning. I also bet that if they were handed the nightmare Tesla factory, they’d sort the place out in a year. Musk is no production engineer but thinks he is.

    Your average person isn’t going to be driving a pure EV in five years’ time. Governments can’t hand out subsidy freebies to all. So, it’s only a portion of the reasonably well-off who’ll be leading the EV charge. In that context, that good-looking Jag I-pace would be my choice over any Tesla. Good luck to JLR, I say. The vehicle also shows it’s possible to design and manufacture an EV without the silly drama, chest-beating, unkept promises, bad panel fits and leaping around having to join the fundamentalist Church of St Elon while following his every silly uttering that buying a Tesla entails.

    Oh yes, here’s the Toyota link for today’s announcements:

    1. Bill I was a great fan of Toyota having bought the early Prius back in 2006 but they have rested on thier laurels to long with hybrids, Nicad batteries and of late hideous styling.
      Other manufacturers have bypassed them on the pure electric and PHEV front and I don’t see that changing with the info you provide.
      I assume like many other early adopters that experiencing the very limited electric side of the Prius was the catalyst for desiring full electric rather than persevering with the ICE.
      I owned the Prius longer than any other but it was replaced with a full electric then a PHEV due to different driving commitments and recently another PHEV with more emphasis on the electric side.
      I think what this might prove is no one drive train design is ideal for all situations which is a compromise we have had to accept for decades with ICEs but not anymore.
      I for one welcome this and thank Toyota for starting the ball rolling but progress as the saying goes stops for no man.
      I consider myself average, certainly not monetarily rich but as a life long car enthusiast have desired to move forward, even back in the fifties at school I was drawing futuristic cars studying advanced European desgnes but it’s taken some forty years before Toyota, Honda and GM to start the ball rolling and then another decade plus for Tesla Nissan and GM to intro full EVs and PHEVs. Meanwhile others have joined the electrification train, prices have dropped, preowned cars at affordable prices appeared, environmental issues surfaced all driving us toward electrification in one form or another.
      I welcome the choice we have today and am benefiting with every trip I make with improved dynamics, running economy, environmental positives, convenience etc.
      This forum is a sounding board for enthusiasts to lament the virtues of past engineering icons that stood out from the norm and yet a revolution is happening under our noses at the moment and all I see is negative comments from those who should be more open minded!

    2. The I-PACE is impressive, but who will really be able to use that incredible acceleration? And they’ll have to have some means of finding the door handles, which are invisible in the dark.

  5. I don’t see the negative comments that you do.
    Like you, I drew, sitting at the back of the maths class, lots of cars in the fifties. Usually going on from 300SL, Jags, BMW 507, Alfa 1900 C Sprint, etc. So, boys’ toys. The SUV didn’t exist, and now they all look very similar anyway.
    Had I wanted to be a production engineer I’d have sat nearer the front and learned the calculus needed to produce the curved panels required.

    No, I’m not negative, but you’re right it’s the biggest revolution of our lifetimes: crossply to radial, servo brakes, ABS etc were just blips.

    We can’t see what the road will be like 10 years hence. How far will driverless have advanced; who will still be making cars, given massive over-capacity already; will people even bother to own cars, as opposed to a Uber-type situation; will all ICE cars be culled; will multi-storey car parks be filled with a few generic car types waiting to be dialled up to order like taxis? etc etc.

    Toyota, which sells all over the world, including countries with no rural electricity (and indeed humanitarian charities like Oxfam), has to keep all bases covered.

    In fact climate change will cause more disasters too, and our design climate along with it.

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