For the past two decades, the future of electric cars has been a classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation. EV technology has developed apace, but in order to make EVs a truly viable option, the cars needed an infrastructure and the infrastructure needed the cars.
As a result, electric vehicles remained a niche. Models like the Nissan LEAF and Renault Zoe, bought by early adopters and the environmentally conscious, proved there was a market, but one that only appealed to the educated few. After all, electric cars were expensive alongside comparable petrol and diesel models and owning one required a level of compromise as far as journey planning and range were concerned.
But in the past 18 months, the electric car market has seen a seismic shift. Instead of appealing to sense and sensibility, the world’s leading manufacturers are chasing hearts and minds. The Tesla phenomenon, a charge led by South African Canadian Elon Musk, has seen EVs transform themselves, from quirky to cool, environmental to aspirational.
Tesla was - and remains - a niche brand, albeit one with growing presence globally. But its move towards making electric cars a materialistic choice as well as a socially responsible one has spurred some of the more established names to following suit.
One of the biggest advocates is Porsche, which has committed to an electric future. While it recognises there will always be a market for traditional petrol-engined sports cars, the German manufacturer sees EV drivetrains as something that’s beneficial to the brand in more ways than one.
At the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the company teased punters with its Taycan, the brand’s first fully electric car.
Writing in USA Today, Klaus Zellmer, the marque’s US CEO, said: "Let’s be clear: We believe EVs will quickly become commonplace, not that they will fully displace internal combustion engines.
"Frankly, EVs are fun to drive. Electric motors provide instant torque for quick acceleration, and the lower center of gravity from battery packs will reinforce the sporty feeling. So don’t be surprised when all of this truly catches on in the near future."
Zellmer’s beliefs are backed up by Jaguar Land Rover, which recently committed to a long-term EV vision following the success of the electric i-PACE - World Car of the Year 2019, no less - which is currently built for Jaguar under contract by Magna Steyr in Austria.
JLR’s announcement at the end of June 2019 was a major news story, not least because it showed that a manufacturer alleged to be in trouble by various sectors of the media clearly still has the money to make huge investments, but also because it both created and safeguarded thousands of jobs.
There are millions of people across the world employed directly or indirectly by the automotive sector and a project of this magnitude is great news for the industry as a whole.
As part of it, JLR will completely redevelop its Castle Bromwich manufacturing facility and Hams Hall engine plants in the UK to become EV centres of excellence, as part of its commitment to offer an electric version of all Jaguar and Land Rover models from next year.
Perhaps more telling, though, was JLR boss Ralf Speth’s prophetic statement, where in six words he underscored the commitment of one of the world’s leading premium vehicle manufacturers to EV development.
“The future of mobility is electric,” he said. In one sweeping statement, the chicken and egg game was over.
Expect plenty of fanfare, then, when Jaguar whips the Union Jack off its new XJ at the Frankfurt Motor Show later this year in a move that will inevitably lead others into following suit.
Power of design
The story won’t only be about its powertrain, either, as it will be retiring Jaguar design chief Ian Callum’s parting shot.
“It will be beautiful, sporty, sleek and has to be a drivers’ car,” he told Road and Track magazine. “It’s not just a three-box sedan. It’s something people want to get into and drive. And that has to be a message of its shape.”
In many respects, the new XJ will be as far removed from its predecessors than ever before - after all, just 20 years ago, the flagship XJ came with a 6.0-litre V12 engine that could trace its roots back to the 1960s and was an anachronism even then.
But when the first XJ appeared in 1968, it was arguably the most innovative car of its day. And as Jaguar leads the charge towards the future of electrification, history could be - in its own way - about to repeat itself.