Jag NZ on charge for I-Pace

Jaguar’s first electric car could be cruising New Zealand in the year of its release.

EFFORT to secure for local market sale an electric Jaguar just unveiled to the world in concept form is under way.

Ben Montgomery, operations manager for Jaguar Land Rover here, is keen for New Zealand to have the production equivalent of the I-Pace in its global release year, 2018.

“It’s in our planning,” he says.

“We’ve been told that it will be available in the second half of 2018 and we will be starting our product evaluation with the factory … it is something that we have got in our long-term business plan. We’d certainly like to be bringing it here.”

It appears Jaguar New Zealand was working on its bid for the car even before its unveiling at the Los Angeles motor show last week.

The I-Pace thrust comes at a good time. Jaguar’s brand status has been buoyed by the immediate local market success of the F-Pace, local market electric vehicle interest is growing and that in turn spurs thought that brand investment in the Formula E electric racing series can be leveraged locally, since Aucklander and former New Zealand Grand Prix winner Mitch Evans is one of the works team’s drivers.

Jaguar’s first ever electric vehicle has been one of the big news stars of the LA event  and the brand has signalled this swank medium all-wheel-drive crossover is the first of at least several battery reliant products. Jaguar has indicated that the production version of I-Pace will bear close relationship to the concept in respect to its styling as well as the avant garde technology.

Montgomery can see it sitting comfortably as an alternate to the F-Pace, the brand’s first tilt into the sports utility sector, a huge sales hot spot the world over.

SUVs have been capturing more buyers than any other passenger category since June, so even though F-Pace only landed in July, it landed into perfect storm conditions. Sales success was immediate. A model that avails in petrol and diesel form from $95,000 to $130,000 has already reaped 85 sales, a big enough count to pump Jaguar’s year-on-year performance by 126 percent.

The NZ experience is being repeated elsewhere around the world – global F-Pace enthusiasm is such that Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover’s overall international performance for the last quarter has lifted by 84 percent.

Montgomery does not think Jaguar will ever totally abdicate its historic stock in trade of sporting road cars.

He points out that some people drawn into the showroom by F-Pace have, in fact, decided to buy the new XE and XF sedans instead, having determined that, in hindsight, those models suit their needs.

Nonetheless, he also suggests interest in sports utilities and crossovers is simply set to grow ever stronger and that there’s no turning back from developing more quasi off-road models. Likewise Jaguar Land Rover is also plugging into the electric field, with the parent indicating from LA that up to half its lineup will be plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles by 2020.

JLR is banking on the growing need for zero-emissions vehicles forced by government regulations, customer acceptance and government incentives, says Ralf Speth, the company's CEO.

"For a small company like us, this is a huge challenge and it will stretch the organisation," Speth said at the show. But, he said, it also proves that JLR "can be really advanced."

He sees I-Pace playing a crucial future role, given the obvious emergent domestic interest in full and partially electric vehicles. The car’s crossover format and four-wheel-drive simply strengthen the appeal.

“The market around the world is all moving to SUVs. The F-Pace has absolutely transformed the Jaguar brand. It (I-Pace) the logical next step.”

No-one’s talking price yet, but Speth has warned that with the development cost of an EV at 2.5 times higher than that of a combustion vehicle, "higher economies of scale have to happen." 

Jaguar NZ’s interest should – but probably won’t – force Government to review its intransigence about offering the kind of incentives that have worked so well overseas.

With some sort of tax benefit or rebate, NZ would look all the more attractive to makers who, being compelled by regulatory pressure worldwide to boost fuel economy and lower emissions to go electric, already see the benefits of being in a country whose electricity is particularly Green through wholesale reliance on wind, solar, hydro and geothermal generation.

Even though our EV fleet is still tiny, the announced intention to build a national network of EV recharging stations and for Government departments to join big brand companies in adding more EVs in their fleets reflects a growing national desire to break away from Big Oil.

Jaguar NZ’s boss does not think his brand will be taking too much of risk by introducing the I-Pace as a sales opportunity.

“It (the EV sector) is certainly a growing segment and there will be more competitors and more activity there by 2018. We want to be part of that.”

The likely rivals include models from Porsche and Audi, whose local distribution is also Giltrap-run. The Audi Q6 e-tron – another SUV that is of similar size to Jaguar’s – might also be here within two years and the Porsche Mission-E sports sedan will likely be available by 2020.

Jaguar’s crossover is also expected meet the Model X from Tesla Motors, which intends to set up a New Zealand franchise operating from Auckland in nearly 2017. Mercedes' EQ concept unveiled at the Paris motor show in September show is also expected to realise as a couple-like SUV before the end of the decade.

Montgomery says it’s pure conjecture about how much you’ll pay for an I-Pace but he confirms the idea would be to place it as an adjunct to the F-Pace.

“I’d be speculating at much as you at the moment and, if you look at my TAB account, you will see that my speculation does not always go right.”

The I-Pace is also among latest electrics that demonstrate how technology is fast overcoming the range anxiety issues that have previously hung over EVs.

The liquid-cooled 90kWh lithium-ion batteries that drive two rare earth magnetic electric motors, located one a piece on the front and rear axles, for a total power output of 295kW and 700Nm of torque have been developed in-house and use pouch cells for their energy density and efficiency.

They will, Jaguar claims, allow at least 500 kilometres of range on a single charge. They are also quick-recharge items, able to give 80 percent charge in 90 minutes and 100 percent in just over two hours from a 50kW DC charging point. The batteries sit low, and between the axles, to give a centre of gravity that’s 120mm lower than the F-Pace, so handling remains good, Jaguar says. Even though the I-Pace is hardly a lightweight at 2100kgs, there’s still the usual EV attraction of superb acceleration, with 0-100kh in around four seconds.

The I-Pace features an all-new aluminium platform, and the compact size of the electric motors – each one has an outer diameter of 234mm and a length of 500mm – allow plenty of space in the cabin to enable comfort for up to five occupants.

Much of the car’s hardware is from the F-Pace, including the double-wishbone front suspension – also shared with the F-Type sports car - and the compact Integral Link rear suspension.

The exterior has a cab-forward design, taking cues from Jaguar’s 2010 C-X75 supercar with a coupelike silhouette. The low bonnet, which – with the motors sited on the axles, covers a luggage space - and wide wheel arches accentuate the sporty look and there’s a touch of the exotic with a composite spoiler to reduce lift at higher speeds, though the I-Pace also benefits from a drag coefficient of 0.29, which is very low for a SUV or crossover.

The concept has all-wheel drive and traction control technology including All Surface Progress Control and Adaptive Surface Response, which improve stability and handling on all road surfaces and weather conditions.

Interestingly, while JLR is gung-ho about a battery future, it is less hot about following the competition and plunging into development of autonomous vehicles. That’s because of safety concerns.

"We need more technology and millions more lines of code," Speth said. "Let's wait a little bit. It may be too conservative, but I do it purposely." 

His major concern with self-driving cars is that current technology "is not safe enough." 

He said the first uses should be in trucks on closed roadways "so you have easier territory rather than bringing them into the middle of the city."