No one expected Jaguar to unveil an electric performance SUV with a bold, cab-forward design that combines a supercar silhouette with sports car performance and five-seat versatility at the LA Auto Show this week, least of all the German brands.
And the reason the Jaguar I-Pace looks so good is the fact the design itself was heavily influenced by Jaguar’s plug-in hybrid concept car, the C-X75, which debuted at the 2010 Paris Motor Show.
It was a thoroughly advanced concept powered by four YASA electric motors, each of which drove one of the four wheels. The batteries that drove these wheels were charged by two diesel-fed micro-gas turbines, rather than a conventional petrol engine.
It was ground-breaking technology that produced 580kW of power, but the car was never produced in the limited production numbers that Jaguar proposed, due to costs and the global financial health at the time, though it did feature in the most recent Bond film, Spectre.
But Jaguar’s Director of Design, Ian Callum says these are exciting times, and automotive designers should embrace the new-found freedom full electrification offers.
“The physical side of electric cars excites me hugely, because it gives us more freedom than we’ve ever had, since electric car design is driven by a completely different set of parameters," said Callum.
“Electric cars simply don’t need to look like conventional cars as we know them, which is why the Jaguar I-Pace looks nothing like anything else currently on the market in the SUV segment," he continued.
“In the I-Pace, I think we’ve created a different profile, an exciting profile because it must emulate mid-engine cars, which is quite exciting.
“There’s a lot of C-X75 in I-Pace, and that’s intentional. If you sliced that car down the middle, and dropped it by a couple of feet, you’d have a sports car," he added.
“We could have gone down the route of producing an all-electric performance sedan, no question, but an SUV gave us even more opportunity to create something quite different, and we believe it was the right choice.
“The F-Pace [our first SUV], whether you like it or not, is the highest selling vehicle we’ve got. It’s actually turned the Jaguar brand around – already, after only six months from its launch.”
While Callum admits, full electric cars are already here, and here to stay, carmakers still need to offer a range of mobility solutions that can cater for various markets.
“I think within 10 years there’s going to be a significant jump in electrification, but it will come down to how the various governments and policy makers support the infrastructure required to effectively fuel the cars," he said.
“For example, the UK is very empathetic towards zero emissions vehicles now, at government level, but I think every country will deal with the changes in a slightly different manner.
“But if the Chinese decide wholesale they want to go electric for their own issues and problems of pollution and such, that will drive huge momentum into technology and infrastructure, which will then travel across the world.”
Asked whether a brand like Jaguar could go 90 per cent EV and 10 per cent conventional engine, Callum doesn’t have a definitive answer.
“I know how long we’ve got our V8’s for currently, and we can continue to develop them as they are, but I don’t think many car companies will be producing all-new big engines for much longer, frankly," he stated.
“I mean, we’ve got a range of engines which will last for quite a few years yet, at least on the performance side of things, but I don’t think companies like Ferrari will be very reluctant to let go of the V12, as it's very much part of the brand’s character.
“But of course, there’s two ways of looking at sports cars. You either decide sports cars are the last mantle of the internal combustion engine because of the sound and noise, or you could argue sports cars are the ideal opportunity to go electric, because range may not be that important, because of how you use it.
“Potential performance out of electric cars is already quite phenomenal. We’ve already for over 400 horsepower out of the I-Pace, and it’s not that difficult to achieve. You could easily add more electric motors and lift power to over 600hp with all-wheel drive and even more torque,” he concluded.