Have electric cars reached a tipping point? For Euro luxury brands, the answer is yes

June 13, 2016

A tipping point marks the moment in time where an idea steps out of a slim niche, and rockets to widespread acceptance.

A reality for more than a hundred years, electric cars have only come close to mainstream success in the last five.

Much of the credit goes to scions like the GM EV1 and the Nissan Leaf, but the lion's share goes to Tesla. For all its shaky starts, production and quality issues, it delivered the Model S--the first electric car capable of more than 250 miles of range, in an appealing package, minus any of the electric-car baggage of potential rivals.

It wasn't until April of this year, when Tesla took nearly 400,000 deposits on its Model 3, that electric cars reached what may one day be considered their tipping point.

While mass-market brands put a toe in the water with cars like the Chevy Bolt EV and Hyundai Ioniq, the moment is now at the influential high end of the auto market. The ranks have closed at brands from Aston Martin to Audi and even Porsche in the last six months, with an array of high-end marques falling into lockstep with a future largely mapped out by the California-based electric car maker.

In wrenching irony, the biggest European automaker to pivot strongly toward electrics is the automaker that had staked large swaths of its future instead on diesel: Volkswagen.



Electrics to rule Britannia

Count Jaguar Land Rover as an "in," on the future of electric cars. Design director Ian Callum isn't just a frequent Twitter fan of Tesla's Elon Musk, he's convinced electric cars will completely change the shape of tomorrow's cars.

As Callum told Autocar, "electrification will kickstart the biggest change in automotive design in history."

To that end, JLR is planning an entire range of electrified vehicles--hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery electrics, possibly including everything from the new F-Pace SUV to sedans to much of the Land Rover SUV lineup.

That's confirmed by Jaguar Land Rover R&D chief Wolfgang Epple, who confirmed the company's recent Concept_e vehicles will point the way toward zero-emissions vehicles on the horizon, as soon as 2020.

Jaguar Land Rover has been shy on hard details, but other British automakers are openly on board with electric cars.

Aston Martin will likely skip the gas-electric hybrid phase altogether, says CEO Andy Palmer, and move straight into plug-in electric cars as soon as 2020.

Palmer ran product development for Nissan during the time it launched the Leaf, the world's best-selling electric car to date.

Aston Martin DBX concept, 2015 Geneva Motor Show

Aston Martin DBX concept, 2015 Geneva Motor Show

Aston's second electric vehicle, and first vehicle designed initially with battery power in mind, will be the DBX crossover SUV, to be built in Wales.

"I haven’t sourced the DBX EV yet," Palmer told The Car Connection. "There’s an awful lot to learn in getting into battery technology, and you need to go through a full cycle with not too many changes."

Its first EV has been more a learning lab within its Q engineering division, Palmer says. An Aston Rapide sedan converted to battery power--the Rapid-E--has shown the company the value of electrics, as well as the value of learning everything about batteries, from the ground up.

"The idea of being able to put electric drive into an existing car, reduce the number of development variables, is a major benefit," Palmer said. "You learn particularly about battery chemistry, and the management of batteries, and the safety of batteries."

Still, Palmer is convinced that bringing battery engineering in-house will pay off for Aston in the long term.

"The risk of sounding arrogant, but the benefit of going through EV development by yourself, without a parent holding your hand, is that you learn quickly," he said. "You learn how to ask the right questions. So even if you choose to source in the future from a partner, you know what questions to ask them."

Though Aston will also offer plug-in hybrids in some models, the future is electric, Palmer said. "In 20 years, I’m sure that everything has an electric motor associated with it. It’s as inevitable as death and taxes."

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