Jaguar is in desperate trouble. The company and its corporate cousin Land Rover — both owned by Tata Motors — elected to lean heavily on diesel engines to power their heaviest vehicles in the past decade. There was simply no other way to make such enormous vehicles deliver acceptable fuel economy. But the popularity of diesel-powered cars has plummeted following the revelations about diesel emissions that came in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal.
Suddenly, the world woke up to find that diesel exhaust kills people. Study after study has shown that living near major thoroughfares clogged with diesel trucks and cars takes years off a person’s life and leads to a panoply of ailments from asthma to cardiovascular and pulmonary disease. Suddenly the idea of getting a few extra miles per gallon didn’t seem quite so important.
Jaguar saw the handwriting on the wall a few years ago and made a decision to transition to battery electric cars. The I-PACE SUV was the first pure electric vehicle from the company and it is a terrific automobile, even though it may not be the most efficient EV on the planet. Nevertheless, it has been warmly received by consumers. Waymo has ordered 10,000 to be converted to fully self-driving vehicles at its new factory in Michigan.
Now the company says it will apply the lessons learned from the I-PACE to create a battery electric version of the Jaguar XJ, the sedan that has been its flagship model since 1968. It is supposed to be the epitome of a fine English saloon car — fast, comfortable, sure-footed, and with more wretched excess slathered around its interior than an upscale men’s dining club in London. The time-honored Jaguar advertising slogan is “Grace, Space, And Pace,” and the new XJ will have a healthy helping of all three.
CAR magazine reports that the new XJ — due out later this year — will eschew the traditional three-box saloon car design and offer a 5-door hatchback version in its place. Hatchbacks have better aerodynamics than traditional sedans, so that choice is entirely logical, even if it may put off a few of the company’s more traditional buyers.
The car will be fully electric and be the first to ride on the company’s all new MLA platform. At a time when almost every other manufacturer is transitioning to dedicated battery electric platforms, Jaguar’s new chassis will also be able to accept V-6 and V-8 internal combustion engines. For a small manufacturer like Jaguar, being flexible to changes in the marketplace is critical even though we hope those ICE versions are never needed.
Visually, the new XJ will share many of the design elements that make the I-PACE such an attractive vehicle, but the family resemblance will be more than skin deep. (Unfortunately, there are no royalty free images of the new car available at this time.) Underneath the svelte new body, the technology that makes the I-PACE possible will be featured in the XJ as well. CAR says there will be an electric motor for each wheel, each rated at 200 horsepower, suggesting this cat will be fully capable of keeping up with the competition in any speed contest.
The Jaguar factory at Castle Bromwich has been partially shuttered, with workers only putting in three-day weeks since before Christmas. There is no word where the new XJ will be manufactured, but the UK workers are hoping it is on the regular XJ assembly line. The I-PACE is built for Jaguar by Magna Steyr at its factory in Graz, Austria.
Jaguar really needs the new electric XJ to be a sales success as the company is hemorrhaging money. It has plans for a larger electric SUV, the J-PACE, in the works and expects to transition to a full lineup of electric cars in the coming years. It needs to. No way those diesels it has been cranking out for years are going to met the new Category 6 European emission standards without help.
The most serious criticism of the I-PACE to date has been that its electronics are years behind the standard set by Tesla. Its onboard navigation and infotainment systems are clunky in their operation compared to those from the Silicon Valley upstart. The concept of a car being as much a computer as a vehicle is still new to many in the traditional auto industry. Jaguar has a lot of work to do if it wants to run with the big dogs.
Jaguar has made world class automobiles in the past. Will it do so again in the future? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.
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