We're headed down a very strange road right now.
As the setting sun lulled tired journalists out of the Los Angeles Convention Center on the last day of the 2016 LA Auto Show, the direction in which the auto industry is headed had become a lot clearer. They say money makes the world go round and the auto industry is no exception to that rule. But automakers can only get away with selling cars as appliances to a limited extent. At the end of the day, it is the love of cars that prevails, spilling into cracks as far removed from the enthusiast’s mind as the crossover or the electric car.
The present is still the present though, and designers, engineers, and product planners still need to design, engineer, and plan accordingly. That’s why the SUV took center stage at the show with the Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Atlas, Maserati Levante, and even Subaru’s Viziv-7 concept making an appearance. At the moment, the whims of the market dictate that any automaker with a shred of self-interest has to make these. It’s just a bit weird when Maserati and Lamborghini are in on it too. Still, this new breed of SUV is no Chevrolet Tahoe or Ford Explorer from yesteryear. What began as an experiment has morphed into a new genre, and once it’s a new genre, it’s free to evolve from there.
It’s taken the crossover just a bit of time before it stretched into the niche of the car lover. Plenty of automakers are targeting young non-enthusiasts with models like the Ford EcoSport or tempting routine-riddled families in their years of prime productivity with the likes of the Honda CR-V. But now enthusiasts are able to partake in the fun too. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio QV took home the award for most lust-worthy gearhead-approved SUV and runner-ups from the likes of Maserati, BMW, and Mercedes weren’t that far behind. Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes, usually the trendsetters, have proved that with the right amount of styling and performance, a modest price point, and the forgoing of off-road ability, even enthusiasts will buy an SUV.
This time around Alfa Romeo was the one to take the baton and run further by adding some much-needed Italian flair to the segment. And then there’s Jaguar. Ever since it was adopted by Tata Motors, Jaguar has been on a roll using the history behind its badge to create a persona dripping with sex. And now we have that embodied in an electric car. While Tesla has made leaps and bounds in the crusade to bring electric cars into the mainstream, not many people will accuse Teslas of being too sexy. Unfortunately for them, sex sells, and while there’s still no telling how the I-Pace will be received, it will doubtless add another weapon to the automaker's arsenal with a reach that Fisker and the like don't have.
Not many other automakers have gone with the charismatic electric car to represent the brand. BMW may have i and Mercedes is still hammering away at EQ, but these cars are selling somewhat slowly thanks to polarizing designs while the parent companies behind them quietly convert to hybrid power as a prequel to full electrification. The I-Pace could very well eliminate the problem of having to chose between SUVs that are too subdued to take a moral high ground in traffic or too loud to do errands without sticking out like a sore thumb. Jaguar intelligently predicted that by its 2018 release date, the I-Pace will be able to ride two separate waves to sales success.
One is on the back of the SUV craze, which is gravitating towards crossovers sized similarly to the I-Pace, and the other is the rise in popularity of electric cars. With 400 horsepower, Ian Callum’s styling talents, and Tesla levels of EV practicality, the I-Pace will certainly help keep Jaguar stockholders happy. More importantly though is the fact that the I-Pace may usher in a more complete acceptance of the SUV and electric car segments from the car-loving community and non-enthusiasts on the fence. Don’t expect us to spring for one just yet, at least not while Alfa Romeo keeps putting a Ferrari engine into a stylish SUV and selling it within US borders.