GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Jaguar's early entry into electric vehicles with the I-Pace gave it an opportunity to create a standout design before EVs start to look similar, design chief Ian Callum said.
He said Jaguar will continue to press its design advantage by developing more EVs. "There's certainly an opportunity in the near future and mid future, because ultimately electric cars will look very similar because the underpinnings are very similar," Callum, 64, told the Automotive News Europe Congress.
Designers of premium EVs are liberated from the traditional format of an engine in the front, gearbox in the middle and driveshaft to the rear, he said.
"You have to package the electric motor, inverter and the battery, but they're joined by wires and not bits of metal, so there are opportunities," said Callum, now in his 20th year as Jaguar's director of design.
For example, the lack of an engine means occupants can be moved farther toward the front to give the vehicle a more cab-forward look that echoes that of midengine supercars.
The differentiation that allows the I-Pace to stand out won't last long as designs inevitably will be dictated by the battery layout, Callum said.
The I-Pace's "skateboard" platform with the batteries packaged in a relatively thick floor requires the wheels to be pushed to the edges of the vehicle, which will dictate the look. "The wheelbases are going to get longer for that very reason, have to. We know that because we are doing more" EVs, Callum said, without being specific.
The thickness of the battery pack also partly dictated the body style. "We picked an SUV because we have 125 to 130 millimeters (4.9 inches to 5.1 inches) of battery," he said.
Much of the freedom Callum had when designing the I-Pace was because neither the model nor the segment existed.
"If this had existed I would have had the dimensions given to me," he said.
The freedom, however, had to conform to Jaguar values. "When you design a Jaguar, the first function is performance and then beauty. I see beauty as a function," Callum said. "I don't buy into the notions that electric cars have to look strange and funky, or different for the sake of it. This car looks different for the right reasons, because of the way it is designed."
If the resulting vehicle is too different, it ends up scaring off customers. "Innovation should always leave 10 percent that people still recognize, and we did that with the I-Pace front end. Go 100 percent, you'll lose people too quickly," he said. He praised Tesla for recognizing this with the Model S sedan.
Jaguar has sold 5,862 I-Paces this year through April, according to Jaguar Land Rover. The vehicle went on sale last September, beating Audi's e-tron and Mercedes' EQC electric crossovers.
The early launch contributed to the I-Pace becoming the best-selling vehicle overall in the Netherlands in December. Buyers scrambled to get ahead of a tax change that reduced incentives for more expensive EVs.