Fascinating story about the birth of the I-Pace.
Two German friends have dinner together giving rise to the idea of an electric car being developed.
Both believe it is the future of the motor industry.(
c) Bertel Schmitt
Dr. Wolfgang Ziebart, outside of Woolloomooloo Out West, Taipei
At a recent conference in Taipei, covering the fringes of cars and high-tech, a bespectacled, white-shirted man climbed on stage, and announced that his car “is not a Tesla fighter. It is a Tesla beater.” Of course, my interest was piqued. I grabbed Dr. Wolfgang Ziebart, father of the upcoming Jaguar I-Pace electric car, and in a backroom of a place called “Woolloomooloo Out West,” he talked about the beautiful I-Pace, fab-less automakers, why OEMs can’t wait for OTA and why they don’t dare to use it, and why horizontal is the new vertical.
Who is Ziebart? “I am not a petrol-head,” claimed Ziebart.”I am a technology head.” He is a bit of both. Remember the now classic BMW “e46” BMW Dreier? That was Ziebart’s baby. Ziebart was chief of BMW’s R&D, and later CEO of the German chip giant Infineon.
Ziebart became Engineering Director of Jaguar Land Rover in summer of 2013, when Tesla had barely begun selling its Model S in earnest, and when most automakers looked on with a mixture of amusement and disdain. Only a few months later, the I-Pace was conceived, over Dover sole.
Jaguar Land Rover in summer of 2013, conceived, over Dover sole.
“It was at a dinner with our CEO Ralf Speth,” Ziebart remembered.
(The two Germans share a history at BMW). “We talked about the future, and we quickly decided to build an electric Jaguar, despite the fact that it was not clear at all when EV would achieve momentum.”The SUV should arrive in summer of 2018 at an undisclosed price, which most likely is 15% above that of a JLR F-Pace. The I-Pace reaches a market that has woken up to electric, but also a market that shuns sedans and loves SUVs.
Jaguar Land Rover had gone through troubled times. During carmageddon, former JLR owner Ford sold everything it could to stay afloat. JLR was bought by India’s Tata Motors for a fire-sale “net consideration of US $2.3 billion.” At the dinner, the two gentlemen had something else to celebrate:
JLR had found its footing, it created jobs and money. It clearly was time to look into the future, and they resolved that the future is electric, never mind that “we were completely in the fog whether that part of the business would pick up speed within an appreciable time frame.” Equipped with a clear vision, however, JLR CEO Speth had no problem greenlighting the ambitious project, and development was under way.
Being both a car-guy and a chip-guy, Ziebart realized that “an electric vehicle is fundamentally different from an ICE car. If you approach it with the standardized processes of the auto industry, you will have a hard time.“
Ziebart picked a small development team of some 30 people, and put them to work in a space at Warwick University, 17 miles away from JLR’s engineering center, “far enough away, but not in a total vacuum.” Later, the team grew to more than 150. “We did not go down the usual route of developing a car and putting an electric motor in it, let alone using an existing platform,” said Ziebart. “Right from the start, we wanted to make a no-compromise electric vehicle. In the market, only honest cars can thrive, cars full of integrity, where one thing fits into another.”
Except for building hybrid concept vehicles, like the Jaguar CX 75, the team had not much experience with EVs, Ziebart said. “But then, 70% of an EV is just a car. The doors must close, the seals must seal.” From scratch, the team developed what would become a sleek cross-over SUV. Because there is no engine compartment in the usual sense, the EV could afford a shorter front, with lots of lot of space inside.
The battery was put flat under the floor, where it is safest, and where it can achieve a low center of gravity.
“It was clear that the vehicle needed two motors, one in the front, one in the back,” said Ziebart. “This gives you all the freedom to define the driving dynamics, a much better setup than in an ICE car with only one engine.”
I-Pace Electric Concept is shown ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)
For the motor, Ziebart’s initial intention was to buy it from a supplier, because after all, JLR “had no electric motor department.” It turns out, it did. JLR engineer Dr. Alex Michaelides “developed an ingenious concentric electric motor. It’s not the cheapest, but it is the lightest, most compact motor you can imagine,” Ziebart said. The battery cells come from LG Chem.
The 90 kWh battery itself also was developed at JLR.
Despite falling battery prices, some 40% of the car’s cost is in the battery, Ziebart told me. It’s true value, however sits in a black box, the battery management system.
“The development of our own battery management system, and especially its software, was very important to us,” he said. “We did that completely in-house.
The core know-how of an EV is the battery management system, and we keep that to ourselves.”
For a 90kWh battery good for 500km (310 miles) and its attendant power electronics, JLR had to gamble. For most of the time, they had to develop the SUV for batteries and power electronics that did not exist - yet.
Ziebart explained:As the auto industry sheds its wheels and pulleys and goes from high-octane to high-tech, the life of the average automaker is becoming increasingly riskier, Ziebart explained, drawing on his experiences in charge of the making of both chips and autos.
“Technological progress around EVs is much faster than with traditional vehicles. You must get a clear idea of your technological roadmap, you need to predict what is possible four years down the road. Then you need to develop for that, even if you don’t have it. We did not have the battery technology in early 2014.
We had to have faith that by 2018, the battery technology and power electronics with our specs would be available.” They arrived at these specs on a spreadsheet: “In the past 10 years, the energy density of batteries improved by 6 or 7 percent each year, and all you can do is hope that it will continue.”
What if your spreadsheet is off by a column, and the strategic component happens to be not available when you want to go into mass production?“For the traditional carmaker, if a product is a year late for whatever reason, the result is a certain drop in profit contribution. With a high-tech product, it can be deadly. After one year, the state of the art will be a new one and the product might be outdated. The high-tech industry is used to this. The auto industry, not at all.”The design of the SUV was done by legendary Jaguar chief designer Ian Callum, and he “quickly realized how much freedom he received from designing an EV. He truly combined the Jaguar with the EV. From all sides, you immediately notice that it’s a Jaguar, but not the Jaguar you are used to,” Ziebart said, and he added:
“Sometimes you see EVs with a huge hood, that’s sad.”
In late 2016, JLR showed the I-Pace concept at the LA Autoshow, and the media loved it. The Verge did not mince words:
“The all-electric Jaguar I-Pace is aimed right at the Model X.” In keeping with the militaristic theme, Arstechnica wrote that “Jaguar fired a cannon across its competitors' bows.”
The SUV should arrive in summer of 2018 at an undisclosed price, which most likely is 15% above that of a JLR F-Pace. The I-Pace reaches a market that has woken up to electric, but also a market that shuns sedans and loves SUVs.
Why the wait?
If working prototypes have been shown for half a year, why do we have to wait into 2018 for the car?
“O.K., so you finally have that new car with all the bits it is supposed to be produced with. You also have something else: Some 3,000 minor quibbles, all in themselves no show stoppers, but in total, it’s not the quality a customer demands. For a truly refined car, you must work through these 3,000 nitpickings. And finally, you also need to be able to replicate it on a production line, which runs at one car every two minutes.”
The I-Pace will not be built at one of JLR’s factories, Ziebart said. “Our factories do not have any capacity left. People are standing in line for the F-Pace, and many Range Rovers, as well.” The SUV will be built at Magna in Graz, Austria, a company that does contract production for BMW, Mini, Daimler, and more.
Erstwhile chipmaker-CEO Ziebart is very comfortable with that arrangement:“The semiconductor industry had the fab-less model for a long time, a very sensible separation between the ability to produce on one side, and the ability to develop, and sell, on the other. Both the fab-less companies and the pure semiconductor foundries typically show much higher margins than the typical integrated device manufacturers.”“Sadly, this revelation has not yet reached the automotive in
dustry to that extent.
I find this remarkable, given the fact that the global production capacity of the auto industry is some 150 million units per year, while the total market is some 90 million. It would be very sensible to put all that fallow capacity to use. Instead, there is a list of companies that want to create even more production capacity, instead of trying to use what’s there. For an automaker, the development of interesting products makes way more sense than adding to the global glut of production capacity.”
67 years old, Ziebart handed the top engineering job at Jaguar to his successor Nick Rogers a while ago, to focus on bringing the I-Pace from pregnancy to birth.
He also is chairman of Berlin-based Advanced Telematic Systems, a company dedicated to bringing over the air upgrades (OTA) to all automakers. Trained by nightly smartphone upgrades, we have long been familiar with the technology.
To the auto industry, it had to be first introduced by Tesla. So what does Tesla know, and the rest of the auto industry does not, I asked Ziebart.“The complexity of OTA in a car is drastically more complex than in a Windows computer, or an iPhone. A vehicle often consists of more than 50 computers, all with different versions of software, the individual cars are all different, the complexity is overwhelming. It has been more prudent in the past to let the dealer do it.”And what about the chatter that OEMs won’t implement OTA, just to drive customers into the hands of dealers and their workshops?“You can assume that OEMs have a massive interest in doing OTA instead of getting the car to the shop each time. In a recall, you won’t get 100% of your customers, you have inconvenienced customers and high costs.”
And should all that be accomplished, what will a Wolfgang Ziebart do? “Trust me, I won’t take up fishing.”©2017 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.