The electric transition of the luxury car sector: between opportunities and a difficult model changeover

On November 30, Jaguar announced its decision to freeze all launches of new models for more than three years, in order to focus on their transition towards all electric, planned for 2025. At the same time, the brand intends to rival Bentley and Porsche, by offering models at more than 100,000 euros. This bet is part of the current logic of cars’ electrification, that requires to revise the production cycles and that a lot of luxury brands have already initiated… more or less successfully.

First of all, the record-breaking sales of some electric models get things moving within the luxury car world, and reveal the necessity of adapting for all brands, with a view to remaining competitive in the medium, or even short term. Tesla’s success story is, of course, the main reference: its Model 3 has become in September the bestselling car model in Europe, regardless of the brand and type of engine, and its market capitalization now exceeds the one of all the other automotive groups put together (around 1 trillion dollars in early December 2021). Such an enthusiasm led to the foundation of new all-electric brands, such as the Croatian Rimac, with its Nevera sports car sold at more than 2 million euros – Rimac has also recently bought 55% of Bugatti’s shares – or the Californian Lucid, which has just unveiled its Lucid Air.

More generally, brands seek to develop offers that correspond to the evolution of demand and which are in compliance with the constraints they have to respect. There are indeed plenty of examples of local (on the scale of strategic markets like Paris, Milan or London), national and European standards on limiting carbon emissions that explicitly target thermal engines. Many car makers have then decided this paradigm shift.

Some of them limit it to the launching of new models, while keeping a significant thermic-wise offer. Those ones are the most reluctant to go electric, and count on the part of their customer base who is still attached to traditional engines. This is the case for Ferrari, that had made a first step in 2019 with its hybrid SF90 Stradale: John Elkann eventually broke the taboo past summer, making official the launch of a first 100% electric model by 2025. Even so, the Italian prancing horse has promised: there is no question of becoming a zero-emission brand.

For others, nonetheless, it is about redefining their offer in its wholeness. So Jaguar, but also Audi by 2026, Lotus for its 80th anniversary in 2028, or Mercedes, Bentley and Rolls Royce by about 2030… lately, the list has been substantially growing. An actual electric race has started. Porsche, which jumped at the chance so as to regain prestige after Dieselgate, has undeniably got a head start from 2019 thanks to the successful commercialization of its Taycan, current bestselling luxury sedan in Germany. Sometimes pointed out because of late modernization, even has Maserati revealed the launching of its MC20 from 2022, available in V6 or electric, but does also plan to change the engine power of its GranTurismo and GranCabrio within four years.

The question, however, is whether these ambitions and commitments will be turned into action, or remain at a mere project stage. Actually, beyond these announcements, transforming the supply and production chains – and, above all, the costs to do so – represents a major obstacle. Thus, Aston Martin, in financial trouble, is still evasive about the topic, one year after back-pedaling on the launching of its first electric car, the Rapid E. As a matter of fact, Porsche’s investment program in electric vehicles amounts to 15 billion euros, and the 180-degree turn of Maserati is compelling the brand to transfer its production towards another Turinese plant. Lastly, if the bet is risky, it is also because it blurs those exceptional brands’ identity, which has always been based on thermal engine’s power and sound. But, for nostalgic customers, Porsche or BMW have already come up with a knack: they offer a technology that reproduces this wonderful sound. To be continued…

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