There’s not been a month that’s gone by this year when we haven’t heard some rumor or other about a luxury or prestige brand working hard to bring an all-electric model to market.
Sometimes, the vehicle is touted to be a response to luxury Californian automaker Tesla Motors and its flagship all-electric Model S sedan. Other times, the vehicle is seen as the only logical step for an automaker looking to retain its relevancy in a world where hulking V-8 engines are faced with extinction at the hands of ever-tightening environmental regulations. Regardless of the reasons for the shift however, the rumor eventually is proven as true at some auto show or other with the unveiling of an all-electric concept car breaking the otherwise stoic silence.
Yet for British automaker Jaguar Land Rover, that’s not the case. You see, while one news site claims with absolute certainty that the luxury British brand is bringing its own all-electric crossover SUV to market, an industry journal claims that despite being on the verge of undergoing massive, unprecedented changes, Jaguar Land Rover is not ready to bring an electric vehicle to market.
On the face of it, both stories conflict directly with one another. But look into the context of the story, and we think it’s possible to paint a more nuanced picture in which the second story validates rather than negates the first — at least given time.
The first story comes courtesy of the established Automobile magazine. It cites multiple anonymous sources who say that Jaguar has committed to making its first all-electric vehicle a crossover, possibly wearing the E-Pace nameplate. That vehicle, it says, would be low and flowing in its style, with a “steeply raked windscreen and a tapered rear end.”
Promising active and passive aerodynamic aids, Automobile says that the E-Pace — presumably an electric variant of the F-Pace, Jaguar’s first ever crossover SUV due to debut next year — would be assembled by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria. In terms of production time scale however, it is a little more vague, only stating that an electric Jaguar would come to market after Jaguar Land Rover transitions its conventional vehicle powerplants from V-6 to inline six some time in 2017.
Read Automobile’s article on its own, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that an all-electric Jaguar is a foregone conclusion for 2017/2018. Yet over at Automotive News (subscription required), a published interview given by Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show suggests that electric vehicles are far from the company’s plans.
Promising a major change at the automaker for both the Jaguar and Land Rover marques, Speth confirmed that Jaguar’s move into the crossover/SUV segment would be a major boost to the brand. Dismissing the thought that the Jaguar F-Pace would cross-shop against the Range Rover Evoque, Speth even made a valid case for Jaguar moving into the crossover segment alongside Land Rover.
But when it came to discussing electric vehicles — and most pressingly, promised a all-electric crossovers from Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche — Speth was clear: Jaguar Land Rover isn’t ready to build an electric vehicle yet.
“I’m absolutely convinced that an electric machine is an interesting concept, but I’m concerned by the current state of battery technology,” he said. “We are still far from an ideal ratio of energy density and weight of the batteries — not to mention their cost.”
While that might sound like an outright dismissal of electric vehicle technology, Speth was careful to clarify his thoughts further.
“The range is not the core issue. You can achieve any range you want with electric vehicles. It’s only a question of how many battery stacks you will have and how many kilograms you will carry around. A 2.4-ton [electric] sedan is not an environmentally friendly vehicle,” he said. “We have targets in kilowatt power, in density and in weight, and we need breakthrough technologies to get there. What we hear from experts is that these [breakthroughs] will take a little bit longer than everyone expects.”
“I think it’s a matter of time when it comes to the development of battery technology. The electric motor is very nicely defined. Battery management is not a problem. It’s the chemistry, the physical elements of the battery that require a breakthrough,” he added, confirming that when battery technology has reached that breakthrough, the company would most certainly offer electric cars.
And that leaves us with an interesting conundrum. On one side, Jaguar Land Rover is said to be enthusiastic about building an electric vehicle, perhaps even with plans to bring it to market in the near future. Yet the company CEO, when asked, says he fears the technology hasn’t quite reached the level needed to bring it to market for the kind of vehicles Jaguar Land Rover offers.
Can both be true? In a word, yes.
Here at Transport Evolved, we’ve had the pleasure of following Jaguar Land Rover’s developments in electric vehicle technology over the years. Indeed, we’ve experienced both the Jaguar XJ plug-in hybrid concept as a passenger as well as driven both the fully-electric Land Rover Defender and Range-E plug-in hybrid Range Rover.
Since then, we know that Jaguar Land Rover has continued its plug-in hybrid vehicle research and even built a few electric prototype vehicles at its UK headquarters.
Save for another unsubstantiated rumor about Jaguar Land Rover building an electric Range Rover SUV to compete with the Tesla Model X from last fall, we’ve got to admit there’s been nothing concrete to cement a plug-in model in Jaguar Land Rover’s lineup any time soon.
However, we feel at this point that it’s worth noting the efforts that the firm has gone to in recent years to improve the fuel economy of its fleet. Alongside new construction techniques such as the all-new riveted construction of the current-generation Range Rover Sport, Jaguar Land Rover has worked alongside plenty of technology partners to test everything from hybrid flywheel drive to 48-volt electrical hybrid systems. Plug-in technology has been part of that.
If Jaguar Land Rover can continue to lighten its fleet of vehicles through smart material choices and evolved manufacturing practices, it’s concievable that it could offset some of the weight of a heavy battery pack in the process. But while we’re sure an E-Pace is on the cards at some point down the line, it seems Jaguar Land Rover currently views any move towards electric vehicle technology as being too risky.
For now then, if you want an electric Jaguar or Land Rover, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way — and convert one yourself.
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