Why Electric is Driving the Future of Auto Luxury

Back in the day, the internal combustion engine in the automobile solved many problems—including what to do with all the horse manure that was piling up. Not incidentally, it also transported people more quickly and reliably to where they wanted to go. Today, we have a bigger problem—what to do with the greenhouse gas emissions piling up. And, not incidentally, we also have an interest in being transported in a more comfortable, customizable way that ultimately allows us to transform our cars into our living room or our office.

Lagonda Vision Concept at the Geneva Motor Show. Photo courtesy of Aston Martin.

As a board member of Aston Martin Lagonda, I get to see some pretty cool cars (look for a few Aston Martins in the upcoming Bond film). The most exciting for me (sadly not in the film) is the new Lagonda Vision Concept electric vehicle. When you no longer have to make room for an internal combustion engine, you can create an amazing living space inside a gorgeously designed car with an interior that features silk and cashmere, together with more futuristic elements such as ceramic tile. With a flat-floor and an innovative roof opening, the internal space is so commodious, you can step into the car at full height. The Lagonda concept also explores the potential for autonomous driving, with the ability to turn the living room style chairs around to converse with each other without getting a crick in your neck. For Bond types, the electric motor enables you to get up to full speeds blindingly fast. For tech heads, the car will be fully connected with the road, with the office, with cybersecurity measures. And for those who love SUVs, a Lagonda All-Terrain Concept vehicle is planned as well.

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The downside for all zero emission vehicles is the limited driving range before charging and the time it takes to charge the car. The CEO of Aston Martin Lagonda, Andy Palmer, introduced the Nissan Leaf to the world in his previous job and bringing out these all-electric Lagondas is both his passion and serious business. The desired range will be 400 miles with a fast-charge time of under an hour (by comparison, the Tesla X outside range is 370 miles and charging time is 75 minutes to 10 hours, depending on the station). The downside: It will not be available until 2022. The upside: Battery, connected car and autonomous technologies will be further along and offer greater functionality and ease of use.

Around the world, governments are setting timeframes by which all cars are to be electric. Norway is requiring all cars to be zero emission by 2025—and more than 50 percent of its cars today are electric. However, China is winning the race in terms of units, with more than 1 million EVs sold in 2018. The U.S was the second largest market, with 361,000; Norway had 73,000. China and the U.S. are at 4.44 percent and 2.09 percent market penetration, respectively, so there is lots of room for growth. China is stimulating growth with public policy: It aims to have 2 million in annual EV sales by 2020 and to outlaw the internal combustion engine sometime before 2040. France has also committed to a ban by 2040 and the UK by 2050. Governments are seeking to accelerate uptake through a potpourri of incentives, ranging from tax breaks to free parking to fees on conventional cars in low emission zones.

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In response, most automotive companies are rapidly gearing up, moving from one EV in the lineup to an aggressive plan that aims for ultimate full conversion of all models, as has been committed to by Volkswagen and Daimler, among others.

The interior of the Lagonda Vision Concept. Photo courtesy of Aston Martin.

So what does this all mean for luxury? Because luxury cars are typically not driven for long distances (an average Aston Martin owner drives his or her car under 10,000 miles a year), because the electric motor enables much more internal space without growing the exterior, because autonomous technology will enable people to enjoy their cars as an extension of their homes, rather than suffering a grueling traffic battle, and because an electric motor can deliver immense power, I think the future of luxury is electric.

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And, not incidentally, an EV allows the owner to make a statement. Although its recent history has dampened enthusiasm a bit (delayed delivery, quality issues, founder shenanigans), Tesla has popularized electric premium cars, delivering both an avid following and accelerating the auto industry toward electrification. Be it commitments made by mass manufacturers, the emergence of Formula E racing or the proliferation of new electric hypercars from manufacturers such as Rimac and Lotus, electric cars are no longer science experiments but a permanent and growing part of the auto industry.

Electrification is ready to deliver the power, driveability and refinement that will accelerate us toward a cleaner future. Luxury car owners can lead the way—whether in their own interest or in the interest of the planet. Who knows, maybe the next James Bond movie will feature the Lagonda.

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