Richard Truett
Richard Truett
Technology and Engineering reporter

Jaguar XJ could be reborn as electric Tesla fighter

An XJ is polished on the production line at Jaguar's assembly plant in Castle Bromwich, England.

Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
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Autocar, a respected and usually accurate British magazine, reported this week that the Jaguar XJ flagship sedan is being rebuilt from the wheels up as a battery-powered Tesla fighter.

The move, if true, makes a lot of sense.

Jaguar has the cachet to take on Tesla, and starting this year, the British brand will do just that when the battery-powered I-Pace crossover becomes the first electric vehicle from an established luxury brand to compete against Tesla's Model X.

Even if Autocar is wrong -- which is doubtful -- and an electric XJ isn't in the works, Jaguar Land Rover will certainly have more than one battery-powered nameplate. You can bet the powertrain from the I-Pace will be used in other vehicles.

Despite another year of record worldwide sales, JLR is a fairly small company compared with European luxury marques Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. JLR sold 621,109 vehicles globally in 2017, while Mercedes and BMW each sold more than 2 million and Audi moved more than 1 million.

An electric XJ would help JLR amortize the cost of the electric powertrain in the I-Pace. The more batteries and electric motors JLR buys, the better it can take advantage of economies of scale and lower production costs. Another reason why an electric powertrain makes sense for the XJ: The body already is made of lightweight aluminum.

I asked Stuart Schorr, who runs communications for JLR in the U.S., about prospects for an electric XJ. He wouldn't comment specifically, but he reminded me that JLR has pledged to have some form of electrification available in every vehicle it produces after 2020.

The Autocar report says the new XJ also will get the five-door treatment, same as the Tesla Model S, and that another vehicle is in the works, perhaps a beefy wagon or tall sedan/hatchback, that will be sold by Land Rover.

With the diesel engine's days in Europe numbered -- emissions regulators and governments have cracked down on the diesel -- the replacement powertrain appears to be battery electric. Europe has a more fully developed recharging network than does the U.S., and consumers there seem more willing to pay extra for cleaner running vehicles.

As for the I-Pace, I expect it to do something no other JLR vehicle has done: set the benchmark for quality in its segment. You might say achieving that is kind of like picking off low-hanging fruit because the only real competitor, the Tesla Model X, has had numerous well-documented problems with its software and falcon-wing doors.

But the powertrain in the I-Pace has far fewer moving parts than a conventional vehicle. It is being built in Austria by Magna Steyr, a company with a reputation for producing high-quality performance and luxury vehicles for Mercedes, Porsche and others. Perhaps the biggest challenge JLR engineers face with the I-Pace is ensuring the software that runs the vehicle is foolproof or close to it.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.

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