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Jaguar Land Rover’s electric car plans could prove game-changer for industry

The technology predated the internal combustion engine, but has never really been in the running since the birth of the Model T. It might not, then, be immediately reassuring that the government has pinned its industrial strategy for a post-Brexit Britain on electric cars.

But Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement that it plans to build electric vehicles (EVs) here – subject to government subsidising investment in new infrastructure – underlines the change in fortunes for the technology that, until the Nissan Leaf came to Britain in 2013, largely made people think of milk floats. JLR, which launched its first electric model, the IPace, under its Jaguar brand a fortnight ago, is now seen as a relatively late entrant to a market re-awakened by Tesla and Nissan and nurtured by a global desire to cut emissions and limit pollution.

Legislation is forcing manufacturers to lower their fleets’ average tailpipe emissions, making EVs imperative for Jaguar – a specialist in gas-guzzlers. And the cost of a new Tesla means they are competing in same premium market where JLR fishes for customers.

Meanwhile, rapid improvements in batteries and charging infrastructure are tackling drivers’ anxieties about vehicle range. And low running costs, allied with tax incentives, have offset the high price of cars for early adopters.

David Bailey, professor of industrial strategy at Aston Business School, said: “Electric cars so far haven’t taken off in a big way partly because of the upfront costs and relatively poor consumer perception but I’m confident that will change. We’ll see a lot of new cars in 2017 with significantly greater range, like the Tesla Model 3, the Chevrolet Bolt, as well as models from Renault and Nissan. They will be game-changers.

“We’re about to see the first wave of viable electric cars that can compete in the mass market – and when battery prices come down in the mid-2020s there will be a tipping point when EVs can outcompete the internal combustion engine.”

Electric vehicles currently represent less than 1% of the European market. A serious commitment from a big hitter like JLR will help change that.

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