2016 LA Motor Show: Jaguar i-Pace electric SUV takes aim at Tesla

Jaguar i-Pace

Jaguar believes it can out-Tesla Tesla when it comes to a high performance electric SUV – and all because it will arrive later to the electric luxury car parade.

Speaking at the Los Angeles motor show hours after the radical i-Pace all-electric concept car was revealed, Jaguar design chief Ian Callum told Wheels the British brand was perfectly placed to deliver a high performance zero emissions SUV.

“We will actually resolve a lot of these issues perhaps the way some people haven’t done so far,” said Callum, who added the work on the top secret five-seat SUV began early in 2014, well before its most obvious rival – the Tesla Model X – was even on sale.

“We’re coming at a later stage, we know more.”

Jaguar i-Pace driving frontThe Jaguar i-Pace features twin electric motors – one for the front axle, one for the rear – creating a combined 300kW of power, enough to propel the sleek SUV to 100km/h in about 4.0 seconds.

The batteries were designed in-house at Jaguar, rather than sourced from suppliers.

Callum says that delivers advantages in packaging and keeping the motors low in the vehicle because the drive shafts run directly from the motor to the wheels – and incorporate a differential within.

“We reckon if you want to have an added value … let’s come in and do it the way you want to.”

While taking advantage of the interior packaging benefits of an electric vehicle – the batteries run the length of the floor, allowing for more space in a smaller vehicle – Jaguar has also incorporated traditional styling elements to maintain a more aggressive look.

Telsa Model X interiorThe upper grille, for example, feeds air directly to a vent on the trailing edge of the bonnet, allowing for the bold face but ensuring air flows smoothly across the more upright front.

“It’s instead of having a low nose, which we looked at and didn’t like,” said Callum. “There’s a lot of challenges; you’ve got to get the aero better because with electric cars it’s all about the [driving] range, so the aero is very, very sensitive.”

Jaguar is also working heavily to ensure the batteries are cooled to allow for more high performance driving, something the brand is known for.

The lower part of the grille, for example, feeds air to a large radiator, which is used to cool the battery pack that gives a range of about 500km.

“There are super clever batteries with their own cooling system through them,” said Callum.

Jaguar is even considering replaceable batteries, which would allow them to be swapped once newer, more efficient electrical storage systems become available; billions is being poured into battery technology, with many predicting weight and efficiency will improve dramatically in the medium term.

Telsa Model X“We don’t know whether it’s financially feasible [to replace batteries] … so there’s that balance of economics.”

Callum says the i-Pace concept is “95 percent there” compared with the production version, which will break cover late next year before going on sale in 2018.

“The seats are probably the biggest indulgence,” he said, alluding to the fact they will be replaced by more traditional adjustable pews rather than the radical spotted ones of the show car.

Callum wouldn’t be drawn on what other models would be built on the “skateboard platform” that’s full of batteries and underpins the i-Pace, except to admit there were plenty of options.

He said because the batteries were part of the floor structure it made the passenger compartment slightly higher, something that naturally suits the design of an SUV.

“One of the disadvantages of a skateboard platform is it does take up a lot of floor space, that’s why an SUV is easier, because it’s higher up,” said Callum. “Sports cars are more challenging.

“To go into a pure sports car you probably wouldn’t do a skateboard … probably do a T-frame [of batteries], down the middle.”

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