You only need to drive a Jaguar I-Pace a few hundred metres down a city street to know that Britain’s first electric luxury car continues to generate huge interest. Onlookers’ eyes sweep approvingly over its rising and falling flanks as you glide along. Stop anywhere and you’ll soon be part of an enthusiastic “what’s it like” conversation that at times can build a small crowd.
It’s clear the I-Pace has filled enough news pages and TV screens to command near-instant recognition from those with the vaguest interest in cars. Can’t afford one, most people say, but I’m glad they’re doing it. Which makes the I-Pace much more important than simply being the early adopter’s luxury car of choice. It’s helping sell people on the enormous changes coming to every corner of the car market.
What I-Pace audiences rarely know is how and where the car is made. People are always surprised to learn it comes from a vast and venerable factory in Graz, Austria, operated by a unique company, Magna Steyr, whose business model is to build unusual cars for prestige clients that mostly demand great production flexibility as well. Some people are pleased to hear the new Jag has been devolved to Europe, given Jaguar Land Rover’s current difficulties and the lingering uncertainties of Brexit. Others are disappointed because Jaguars have always been so British. Still, the system works. Nowadays, there are two Graz Jaguars – the I-Pace sharing its flexible final assembly line with the entirely different E-Pace compact SUV, now Jaguar’s best-selling model.
Why choose Magna? Because when these models were nearing launch, JLR production was already at capacity. Graz was ideal because it had successfully built dozens of different brands and models over the years, always at impressive quality. The 90-year-old business was started late in the horse-drawn age by a Slovenian immigrant called Johann Puch (the sign off the autobahn still says ‘Puchwerk’) who made bicycles, motorbikes and light cars until he joined an expanded Steyr-Daimler-Puch company in the 1930s.