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Jaguar shocks with autonomous electric pod

Wednesday, 4th March, 2020 4:27pm

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has rather stunned its rivals by showing off an electric, autonomous, pod-like transport called Project Vector.

It’s something of a coup for a company better known for its coupes. While others, including General Motors, Volvo, Volkswagen, and mad-dog Swiss concept car specialist Rinspeed, have shown similar concepts, the Anglo-Indian Jaguar Land Rover is a minnow in global car making terms.

JLR says that Project Vector is part of its Destination Zero plan — “an ambition to make societies safer and healthier, and the environment cleaner”.

The surprise reveal of the pod will be the swansong for outgoing JLR chief executive Dr Ralf Speth. The former BMW executive has shepherded JLR through thick (award-winning cars such as the Jaguar F-Type and electric I-Pace, and the Range Rover Velar and new Defender) and thin (falling sales and tumbling profits in recent years) and wants to go out on a high, or at least setting the company up for a potential future high.

Dr Speth commented: “Jaguar Land Rover understands the trends shaping modern societies. Project Vector shows Jaguar Land Rover as a leader in innovation to make our societies safer and healthier, and the environment cleaner.

“Through this project, we are collaborating with the brightest minds in academia, supply chain and digital services, to create connected, integrated mobility systems – the fundamental building blocks for Destination Zero. Project Vector is precisely the brave and innovative leap forward needed to deliver on our mission.”

The Vector pod is designed expressly for inner-city transport, and is just four-metres long — about the same length as a Ford Fiesta. The floor is entirely flat, and contains the vehicle’s battery pack, and JLR says that it can be used as easily for passengers, as for making ‘last-mile’ package deliveries from local hubs.

Dr Tim Leverton, Project Director said: “The megatrends of urbanisation and digitalisation make connected urban mobility systems necessary and inevitable. Shared and private vehicles will share spaces with and be connected to public transit networks, so you can travel on demand and autonomously.

“That is a complex task, best achieved by working together with partners across the spectrum of vehicles, infrastructure and the digital world. With the technology and engineering power of Jaguar Land Rover, we can provide a unique opportunity for innovators to develop highly-functional urban mobility services, seamlessly integrated into everyday life.

“Future urban travel will be a composite of owned and shared vehicles, access to ride hailing and on-demand services as well as public transport. Our vision shows the vehicle as a flexible part of the urban mobility network that can be adapted for different purposes.”

JLR says that it’s going to work with both Coventry City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority in the UK to put Project Vector vehicles on the road in Coventry, to act as rolling test-beds and ‘a living laboratory for future mobility’. The project has been worked on in co-operation with Warwick University’s National Automotive Innovation Centre (NAIC).

The move into autonomous mobility could come at a critical time for JLR. With falling demand for its conventional passenger range, and the increasing costs of competing with the likes of BMW and Mercedes in the electric car arena, JLR could find a rich seam of potential income from the connected car field.

According to analysts at Lux Research, the market for connected services in vehicles — which includes everything from live fuel prices and parking availability through to mobile content being sold to users of autonomous pods such as Vector — could be worth USD$12.7 billion in the next decade.

Josh Kern, analyst at Lux Research said: “The connected car marketplace – and the opportunities surrounding it – has changed significantly since its hyper consumer- and leisure-focused infancy. Cellular connectivity, cloud management, data access, and data analytics make up the key pillars of the next frontier. Just as smartphone app developers learned to use advertisements to supplement revenue from app users, connected car services need to find revenue sources other than drivers themselves.”

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