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Phil Covington headshot

Jaguar Joins the Transatlantic Electric Car Race

By Phil Covington

Photo: The Jaguar I-PACE, part of the British luxury automaker’s long-term strategy to become an all-electric car manufacturer within a decade.

Many car companies are keen to trade on their brand heritage to bolster their appeal. In reality, only a handful still in business today can truly lean on a storied history as firmly as Britain’s Jaguar.

Known for building sport-infused luxury cars, Jaguar has a racing heritage which stretches back to the 1940s. And according to automotive folklore, Enzo Ferrari famously once said the classic ‘60s era Jaguar E-Type was, “the most beautiful car ever made”  - the kind of peer review beyond compare.

Taking its heritage into the 21st century

Today, Jaguar trades as one of a pair of iconic British brands. Its partner, Land Rover, which also has a venerable history, is known for its rugged off-road vehicles and luxury SUVs. Together, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), under the ownership of India’s Tata Group, finds itself a relatively small player in an industry in flux and consolidation. And like all car companies, the company faces upheaval in a market where heritage alone won’t ensure survival.

Last week, JLR announced that under its “Reimagine” strategy, Jaguar will become an all-electric luxury brand from 2025. Also, in the next five years, Land Rover will welcome six all-electric models as it continues to strive to be the world leader of luxury SUVs, according to the company. These steps, JLR says, are part of an overarching plan to be a net-zero carbon business by 2039.

The news comes at a time when the auto industry is on the cusp of a tipping point, where full electrification is increasingly becoming the direction for auto manufacturers. General Motors has pledged to sell only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035, and Ford just released news that by mid-decade, all of its passenger cars in Europe will be zero-emissions capable, all-electric or plug-in hybrid – and then, all-electric by 2030.

Jaguar faces reality in a new regulatory environment

JLR’s direction is therefore in keeping with where the industry is headed, though it’s on a fast track. Analysis from the BBC points out, while JLR is making a bold move, the company had little choice in response to government regulations imposing stricter CO2 emissions.

Globally, sales have not fared well for the company during the COVID-19 pandemic, and since the United Kingdom and Europe remain the largest markets for Jaguar, regulatory pressure is doubtless having an effect on how to reinvigorate growth. As the BBC reports, “the U.K. government wants to outlaw the sale of all wholly petrol [gasoline] and diesel cars from 2030.”

On top of JLR’s electrification strategy, there was also recent news that JLR is reducing its worldwide workforce by 2,000 in non-manufacturing jobs this year, suggesting the company may be under some pressure to, pardon the pun, find another gear.

A curious investment in both all-electric and hydrogen technologies

In order to chart the company’s new course, JLR says it will spend 2.5 billion GBP (roughly $3.5 billion) annually on electrification technologies along with the development of connected services. JLR also intends to invest in green hydrogen fuel cell power, which a company press release says it is developing in preparation for future demand.

Reorienting the company around both an electric vehicle commitment and at the same time investing in hydrogen fuel cell technology strikes us as a heavy lift for a smaller auto maker. Toyota has been the main proponent of fuel-cell technology to date, and with just one vehicle on the market and extremely limited fueling infrastructure, such investment could prove a risky hedge for JLR.

Furthermore, despite a pivot to electric vehicles, Jaguar is canceling the electric version of the “XJ” sedan it was about to reveal – which runs contrary to the company’s new EV push, and appears to be a last-minute decision indicating it is the wrong vehicle for the moment. Autoblog writes that a company spokesperson says, after years in development, the planned electric “XJ replacement does not fit with our vision for a re-imaged Jaguar brand.”

Reading between the lines, JLR appears to have been forced to spend some time back at the drawing board to get the next generation of vehicles just right. That’s going to be important in order to write the next chapter in its storied history.

Image credit: Jaguar U.S.A. website

Phil Covington headshot

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.

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