The year 2018 is shaping up to be the year of the premium electric car, with launches promised by Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar. But it’s the relatively small British automaker that claims to be leading the charge.

Jaguar revealed its hand at the recent Los Angeles auto show, where its I-PACE concept crossover EV was unquestionably the star attraction.

According to Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth, the storied brand is, “now in pole position for the EV era, with an early 2018 on sale date.”

Though there are natural comparisons to be made with Tesla, which has pioneered the modern electric car, that tiny California company sells only a small number of $100,000-plus EVs, and its long-term financial prospects are questionable.

EVs in the pipeline from the well-established German and British premium automakers are expected to be more affordable than Tesla’s high-end models and, therefore, to be in reach of a broader consumer audience.

In Jaguar’s case, the rakishly designed I-PACE is intended to be a sporty crossover, in keeping with the brand’s image. The five-seat vehicle packs two electric motors, one for each axle, for a combined output of 400-hp and 516 pound-feet of torque. That’s sufficient, says Jaguar, for 0-60 mph in four seconds and a performance on par with the high-performance Jaguar F-Type SVR sports car.

The flat, underfloor 90 kW lithium-ion battery pack provides up to 220 miles range and can be charged from zero to full capacity in two hours using a fast 50 kW DC charger. The same charger can deliver 80 percent charge in 90 minutes.

Jaguar chief designer Ian Callum says the I-PACE has the longest wheelbase in its category, which translates into limousine-like interior space. “EVs reset the design rulebook,” says Callum. “We are entering an exciting era for car design.”

Jaguar boss Speth notes that the I-PACE is a purpose-built platform.

“We are not stuffing electric motors into an internal combustion car, an approach which produces a compromised EV and a compromised IC car,” Speth says. “Ours is built from ground up, which allows you a lot of flexibility in terms of packaging and design and other customer-focused areas.”

Speth argues that EV technology is at a tipping point, although he acknowledges that issues remain. The price of EV components is 2.5 times that of internal combustion cars, with high battery costs still being the thorniest issue.

Nevertheless, by 2020 Jaguar expects that up to half of its global product range will be electrified in some form, whether pure EV or hybrid.

In terms of U.S. market reach, Joe Eberhardt, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover North America, said he believes his company will have an advantage over Tesla.

“I think it’s good idea that Tesla started at the top, because that’s where you have early adopters for the expensive technology,” Eberhardt says. “But Tesla is limited by its price point and by its small distribution network.”

By contrast, Jaguar will sell the I-PACE through its regular retail network. “We don’t want to undermine the power of franchise partners, so (we) will still work sales through dealers,” Eberhardt adds.

Final pricing for the EV is a challenge. Eberhardt says Jaguar will “come up with most market-appropriate price but it is a lot more difficult in an uncharted segment. At one point we will have to take a leap of faith and say we have the right price.”

So, could Jaguar steal some thunder from Tesla, Audi, Mercedes and others entering the all-electric crossover market? It won’t be that long before we find out.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer.

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