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Jaguar reveals its 'Tesla fighter': I-Pace electric crossover sales to begin this year in U.S.

Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

Jaguar first introduced the I-Pace as a concept car at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show. The car unveiled Thursday, in a highly polished production webcast available on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere, doesn't look much different from the concept.

The I-Pace, like the Tesla Model S and Model 3, has been called sleek, sexy and powerful, although it bears almost no resemblance to the long, low Jaguars of the past. Equipped with two Jaguar-designed electric motors, one for each axle, and a 90 Kwh battery, the I-Pace blasts from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, according to the car's official spec sheet. The stated range is 240 miles.

The livestream included British television personalities and a series of slickly produced videos that indicate Tesla faces not only a product challenge, but a marketing challenge as well.

Tesla has spent little on traditional marketing, relying on highly effective, low-cost strategies that include Chief Executive Elon Musk's Twitter feed, a large and intensely loyal fan base and jaw-dropping publicity stunts like last month's launch of a new Tesla Roadster into space orbit from atop a rocket launched by SpaceX, a company also run by Musk.

The I-Pace livestream, which Jaguar called a "show," was threaded with millennial-style irony, bathroom humor and plenty of sexual innuendo, delivered mainly by 29-year-old British comedian Jack Whitehall:

"I've either turned on the heated seats or I've soiled myself.

"The I-Pace will blow your tiny minds.

"The car that electricity has been waiting for! The Jag bigwigs love that."

In one scene, a Ricky Gervais-style skit used plastic buckets and water streams to explain how chargers juice batteries, complete with jokes about hoses and pool boys.

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Carmakers spend many millions on marketing. Jaguar, Porsche, Audi and others are expected to go all out promoting their new electric vehicles, even if they account for only a tiny fraction of total sales.

Creative marketing has been one way Palo Alto-based Tesla, which had no existing business to finance new projects, has been able to limit expenses to get its ambitious projects off the ground.

The not-yet-profitable company continues to burn cash, counting on investment funding to keep it afloat until its car business turns out enough positive cash flow to ensure continuing operations. (Model 3 production remains constrained by what Musk calls "production hell.") Investors will be watching whether the company's guerrilla-style Silicon Valley marketing approach remains effective.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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