LOS ANGELES—It was only a matter of time before the big automakers caught up with Tesla Motors, and Jaguar is taking on the Model X with its all-new I-Pace battery car, introduced here just before the Los Angeles Auto Show.
The global I-Pace unveiled in L.A.—via a virtual reality link-up with London—is a concept car but it’s close to the production version we’ll see in 2018. And Jaguar has the stats to take on Tesla—a sleek new cab-forward shape from Chief Designer Ian Callum (with cues from both the F-Pace SUV stablemate and the C-X75 concept, plus 0.29 aerodynamics), aluminum 400 horsepower, zero to 60 in four seconds, a 90-kilowatt-hour battery pack yielding 220 miles of range. An 80-percent charge takes 90 minutes—will there be a fast-charge option?
The D-Type and XKE in the lobby spoke to Jaguar’s heritage, but it’s obvious that the I-Pace is a clean sheet of paper; the batteries (in the floor) and electric motors (one on each axle) giving the designers an opportunity to create a truly spacious, cab-forward vehicle. Without an engine getting in the way, the front seats are located well forward, creating acres of stowage and legroom for rear-seat passengers. And, with a low center of gravity, it should handle well. No, rides weren’t available.
I’d love to know the weight and the price, but otherwise the I-Pace looks like a serious contender. I asked Callum (whose brother is the chief designer at Ford) how much influence the Model X had on his thinking, and he said, “None whatsoever. Our brief was for a car that could carry five people in comfort. We didn’t even know what the Model X looked like when we designed the I-Pace.” Despite the last election, which could affect the regulatory climate, automakers remain firmly committed to electrification (and autonomy), something that was apparent in next day’s round of events at the L.A. show.
At a panel on “exploring how to achieve a seamless experience in the fully connected, autonomous future,” I asked Thilo Koslowski, head of digital mobility at Porsche, if Tesla should be scared as his company prepares its new ultra-fast Mission-E electric car, also for 2018. “We hope they will be scared—or inspired,” Koslowski said. Also on the panel was Arwed Niestroj, a research titan at Mercedes-Benz, which is firmly committed to both battery cars and plug-in hybrids, and he said, “That’s competition at its best.”
There were all kinds of cool things here. Tesla showed its Model X towing a vintage Airstream trailer. An inventor of flying cars named Deszo Molnar is creating a competition for them that will take to the California skies in about a year. “The reality is that flying cars have value and a future,” he said. “The challenge I made to myself was to create a vehicle that could drive into a congested area, then fly out of it.” Remember that 'copter from the Mad Max movie? That’s what his experimental plane/car looks like.
I also loved Olli, a crowd-sourced, self-driving battery electric bus with seating for 12 from Local Motors. This is the company that 3D printed a car on the floor of the Detroit Auto Show. Olli has 3D wheel wells, but is otherwise conventional—if an auto-piloted vehicle with seating where the driver would normally sit could be called conventional. Local Motors says it will have Ollis “in the wild” next year, presumably in urban test programs.
I ran into Henrik Fisker, he of the ill-fated Karma plug-in hybrid, and he told me he's working hard on his new car, the Fisker E-Motion, an all-electric car with 400-mile range and new battery technology. "It's a game changer," he said. "The styling takes electric into the future. It's somewhat extreme, not everyone will like it. There's no grille, for instance."
Elio Motors brought the latest version of its $7,300, 84-mpg commuter car, featuring both the production motor and transmission, plus new instruments and some other touches. It’s close to the car that could actually come out of Elio’s Louisiana factory, but despite some recent funding the company is not yet ready to launch. Paul Elio is still talking about 2017 production, though.
In a round of press conferences, Kia showed a turbo version of the Soul; Porsche brought out an executive class for its Panamara E-Hybrid; and Mercedes-Benz introduced a lovely and undoubtedly hideously expensive Mercedes-Maybach V-12 S650 Cabriolet. Only 75 will come to the U.S.
And everyone here was talking about the connected car. Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel, said, “Data is the new oil. Data will change the whole driving experience, for automakers, for technologists, and for consumers. The coming flood of data will be very disruptive. Without data, cars won’t even be able to move.” How big a flood? By 2020, the average person will generate 650 megabytes of data daily, while institutions such as the “smart hospital” will be producing 3,000 gigabytes in that same time period. And the average car? 4,000 gigs.
According to Tim Stafford of supercar maker McLaren, connectivity lessons from Formula One racing are translating into breakthroughs for mankind—such as data systems for hospitals and airports. The future, it seems, is arriving in a big rush of numbers.