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Land Rover searches for ways to keep customers and regulators satisfied

Sister companies Jaguar and Land Rover pledged to electrify every model they develop starting in 2020. That means every car released by either brand during the next decade will be available as a hybrid, or with a battery-powered drivetrain. This approach works well in some segments, but the firm is struggling to turn its biggest, heaviest cars into EVs.

On one hand, car buyers have an insatiable appetite for crossovers and SUVs. Motorists are ditching sedans, station wagons, and hatchbacks and flocking toward big, spacious, and tall cars. On the other hand, regulators around the world are forcing automakers to make drastically more efficient cars, and low-body styles require far less energy to move.

“The larger the vehicle, the larger the aero challenge. If you’re not careful, you end up with such big batteries, and you make the vehicles so heavy, that as you race down the autobahn the range disappears,” explained Nick Rogers, Jaguar – Land Rover’s head of engineering, during a media event attended by Automotive News.

Many other automakers are trapped in this catch 22. Jaguar’s solution to the problem was to make the I-Pace, its first series-produced electric car, lower than most crossovers. It’s a road-focused brand, its heritage is rooted in racing and the luxury car segment, so it can get away with a segment-bending model that hugs the ground. Land Rover would have a difficult time convincing Range Rover customers to give up the nameplate’s hard-earned off-road capacity in the name of range, however.

Turning an SUV like the Range Rover and the second-generation Defender introduced during the 2019 Frankfurt Auto Show into a zero-emissions car could require using other powertrain technologies. While Rogers declined to provide specific details, Automotive News speculated hydrogen-powered fuel cells might solve this puzzle.

The powertrain emits only water vapor, and filling the tank (or, in some cases, the tanks) takes no longer than in a gasoline-powered car. It’s a much lighter solution than packing a mattress-sized battery that weighs 1,500 pounds or more under a big SUV, but its eco-friendliness largely depends on where the hydrogen comes from. The lack of a fueling infrastructure is another hurdle standing in the way of hydrogen, though automakers and governments are working to improve it. Finally, the cost is another issue; making a car run on hydrogen is far more expensive than making it run on electricity.

For the time being, it sounds like Jaguar-Land Rover’s biggest models will rely on proven hybrid technology to keep their CO2 emissions in check. We’ll keep an eye on how the firm’s vehicle development team engineers its way out of this pickle.

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Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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