Sustainable Energy

Jaguar Land Rover unveils 'autonomy ready' electric car concept

Key Points
  • Project Vector will initially be based at the National Automotive Innovation Centre at the University of Warwick in England.
  • The last few years have seen a number of major carmakers make big plays in the electric vehicle sector.

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Jaguar Land Rover unveils 'autonomy ready' electric car concept

Jaguar Land Rover unveiled an ambitious concept vehicle Tuesday, with the British automaker saying it aimed to launch on-road trials next year.

In a statement, the company described the Project Vector concept vehicle as being "autonomy ready" and electric, adding that its interior enabled a range of seating configurations. The setups allow for private or shared use, as well as for commercial applications like "last mile deliveries."

The car is four-meters long and has been designed for use in urban environments. Despite describing the vehicle as "autonomy-ready", the company released few details on what this meant.

Project Vector will initially be based at the National Automotive Innovation Centre at the University of Warwick in England. Among other things, the scheme will work with local authorities on the development of a pilot mobility service which is slated to start toward the end of 2021.

"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," Ralf Speth, the CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement.

Destination Zero refers to Jaguar Land Rover's overarching aim for zero accidents, zero congestion and zero emissions.

Speaking to CNBC on Tuesday, Speth added that Project Vector represented an opportunity to, among other things, "create a totally new way of mobility: public but also individual transport based on zero emissions."

On the subject of the U.K. government's plans to end the sale of new diesel and petrol, or gasoline, cars by the year 2035, Speth said it was a political decision and went on to emphasize the importance of infrastructure.

"That means we have to make sure also that the charging opportunities are far higher, denser," he added, stressing the importance of "rapid charging opportunities" as well.

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An electric future?

The last few years have seen a number of major carmakers make big plays in the electric vehicle sector.

In November 2019, the Volkswagen Group officially started series production of its ID.3 electric car, with the German carmaker planning to launch "almost 70 new electric models" on its platform by 2028. Elsewhere, Volvo Cars wants 50% of the cars it sells to be fully electric by 2025.

New car registrations in the U.K. fell by 2.4% in 2019, according to recent figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), with demand for new cars at a six-year low, according to the organization's chief executive, Mike Hawes.

While the outlook is challenging, battery electric vehicle registrations grew to 37,850 in 2019, an increase of 144% compared to 2018, when 15,510 were registered, according to the SMMT. Hybrid electric vehicle registrations increased by 17.1% to 97,850 units.

Though these figures may look encouraging to advocates of these low-emission vehicles, their prevalence in the U.K. is still small compared to gasoline and diesel cars.

Electric vehicles face several challenges, not least when it comes to perceptions surrounding range and charging infrastructure.

The market share for battery electric vehicles in 2019 was just 1.6%, while hybrid electric vehicles had a 4.2% share. At the other end of the spectrum, gasoline had a market share of 64.8%, while diesel was 25.2%.

Will autonomous vehicles become mainstream?

While there is excitement surrounding the development of autonomous vehicles, their widespread adoption could still be some years off.

The last few years have seen a range of tests and developments take place in the autonomous vehicle sector. Last September, the SMMT's Hawes told CNBC.com via email that the shift to connected and autonomous vehicles represented "the greatest change to how we travel since the invention of the car."

"But safety is the number one priority for the automotive industry and self-driving vehicles are still some way off because of the challenges involved with equipping them to handle all possible driving situations," Hawes added.