The launch of the upcoming Jaguar I-Pace will be interesting. Automakers usually avoid introducing a new vehicle on a new architecture powered by a new drivetrain. And there's another twist in the I-Pace launch: The aluminum-bodied, battery-powered crossover is being built in a new body shop at Magna Steyr's plant in Austria.
What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, to hear the story of how the I-Pace came to be, probably not much. Karl-Friedrich Stracke, Magna Steyr's president of vehicle technology and engineering, told me that Magna engineers have been involved in the I-Pace project almost from the start: While Jaguar Land Rover engineers created the vehicle, Magna engineers figured out the best way to build it.
"We were invited very early in the product development time frame in order to provide our process and manufacturing engineering proposals," Stracke said. "We tried to include the right processes in the product early on. In other words, do the product design the right way from the start. We led from the manufacturability point of view. We did this for every function -- body exterior, drivetrain, body interior, body in white, paint. We did this with all functions and optimized the design."
But Stracke said the I-Pace presented some unusual challenges for his production engineers. The vehicle's aluminum body will be assembled using several new joining methods, including welding of aluminum, riveting and bonding. And the I-Pace is unlike any Jaguar ever made. The batteries are in the floor and there are electric motors on the front and rear axles.
Magna Steyr, the Austrian vehicle building arm of Canadian supplier Magna International Inc., has proved it can deliver high-quality vehicles built under contract. A recent Magna Steyr-built vehicle is the Aston Martin Rapide sport sedan, a V-12-powered road rocket with an aluminum body.
The I-Pace is important for Jaguar for a number of reasons. First, it places Jaguar in direct competition with Tesla. The Model X, partially because of its troublesome falcon-wing doors, has not met Tesla's sales expectations, and the I-Pace will be its first real competitor.
Second, Jaguar needs the I-Pace to launch free of glitches and sell well to help the company meet its European Union commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Third, and perhaps most important, the I-Pace has the potential to once and for all bury any lingering perceptions of poor quality that may haunt the brand.
Stracke said the first I-Paces are being built now. The vehicle will launch this year in Europe and arrive next year in the U.S. Journalists haven't yet driven the car, but Stracke has. I asked him what he thought of it.
"The acceleration is unbelievable; it is faster than Tesla. You press the accelerator and it pushes you back into the seat. The steering is very agile and nimble and you don't feel the mass of the car," Stracke said. "The chassis performance is gorgeous. It's unbelievably quiet. There is some fine-tuning going on with the suspension, but that's normal work. I am 100 percent certain it will challenge a lot of cars on the market today."