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2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 550 (Mercedes-Benz)
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 550 (Mercedes-Benz)

Canadian debuts

Hot metal highlights at the Toronto auto show Add to ...

Ian Callum, the Scotsman who has been overseeing styling at Britain’s Jaguar for 12 years now, is on the phone from the United Kingdom, discussing the pace of change in the auto industry.

“When I came here I felt we would need three to five years to start the changes and 10-11 years to complete the first phase,” he says. “I feel we’ve completed the first phase of renewing Jaguar. Phase One was very clear to me. Phase Two is harder. I spend a lot of sleepless nights thinking about this.

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“The question I ask is, ‘How do we continue the change without reinventing the brand?’”

That, in a nutshell, is the story of the auto industry and has been for more than 100 years. Car companies must continually change and evolve. It is a never-ending process driven by big-picture issues such as fuel prices and government regulations – the two biggest ones in the 21st century – along with demographics, fashion trends, population growth, urban migration, global and local economic conditions, environmental concerns, technological advancements, safety matters and plain, old consumer tastes.

“I like to think we are a very design-conscious and very modern car company, but we pay attention to this all the time,” says Callum.

Jaguar, part of the sprawling Tata Group of India, is a small car company in global terms, but it faces exactly the same challenges as every other auto maker competing on the world stage, big and small. Faced with strict fuel economy and emissions regulations in its biggest and most important markets, Jaguar is reinventing not just the look of its cars, but also getting ready to launch so-called “electrified” vehicles.

At this year’s Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, Jaguar is showing a hybrid concept that points not only to where Jaguar thinks it might go with a two-seat sports cars, but also how gasoline- or diesel-electric hybrid power trains might fit into the company’s future. The CX-16 concept is a gasoline-electric hybrid that uses a 1.6-kilowatt electric motor and auxiliary battery pack in combination with a newly developed 3.0-litre supercharged V-6. With 375 horsepower, this two-seater can accelerate to 100 km/h in about four seconds, the company says.

“For Jaguar, the two-seater sports car is at the heart of the brand,” says Callum, noting that his concept cars are not far-fetched fantasies – they don’t “over-promise” – but something very close to reality.

“Yes, we’re seriously looking at a two-seater car. Yes, we’re still looking at the business plan,” he says.

This is what you get at any big auto show: a mixture of fantasy and reality all of it ultimately based on a “business plan” that relies on eliciting emotional reactions from the car-buying public. Those buyers are finicky in the extreme, too. So, also, are government regulators who are demanding the industry change dramatically not in 10- to 12-year cycles, but in historical terms almost overnight.

That is, new fleet-wide fuel economy rules call for something on the order of a 28 per cent overall improvement by 2016 (to an average of 6.67 litres/100 km). Car companies are working harder and faster to meet these regulations than on anything in the history of the business. How big is this challenge? According to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, the industry as a whole improved fleet-wide fuel economy by about 20 per cent in the years between 1982 and 2009. Twenty-seven years to squeeze out 20 per cent and now six years to nail down 28 per cent.

Thus, this year’s show at the north and south Metro Toronto Convention Centre includes a hybrid Jaguar sports car concept, a hybrid production version of the BMW 3-Series, a fuel-efficient compact Dodge Dart, an electrified Ford Fusion mid-size car, a small Buick crossover wagon called the Encore and a hybrid super sports car from Acura which, while being shown as the NSX concept in Toronto, will reach Acura showrooms in three years as a production model.

The 39th annual CIAS show will have some 40 North American and Canadian vehicle premiers, along with 15 concept cars, various collector exhibits and something called the Eco-Drive Showcase which includes a heavy roster of “green” cars, from electrics to hybrids to diesels and more.

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