An automotive Cat-astrophe?

Is an environmentally-friendly supercar a possibility or an oxymoron? It seems that now we might never know.

As a tree-hugging petrolhead, I must confess that modern supercars generally do little for me. Maybe it’s because of the way I regard the car as a cultural and temporal artefact, meaning that an original Lamborghini Countach from the 1970s, for example, moves me much more than today’s Lamborghini Aventador does. Maybe it’s because the pursuit of ever-more unusable velocities, demanding ever more power and resulting ever-more consumption and emissions, seems somewhat out of tune with the current fiscal and environmental imperative. Maybe it’s both. However, there has been one contemporary supercar that has excited me – the Jaguar C-X75.

Jaguar C-X75 (Picture source: Autocar)

Jaguar C-X75 (Picture source: Autocar)

Revealed at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, the C-X75 concept met with critical acclaim. It looked fantastic – redolent of the stillborn XJ13 of the 1960s and yet also thoroughly modern, it reaffirmed the leap forward initiated by the XF and XJ. Jaguar had clearly broken free of the country club strait-jacket it had found so difficult to divest.

Showtime supercars are common, however, and the C-X75’s real tour-de-force was the technology behind it. It was powered by four electric motors, one in each wheel, which were to be supplemented by two small turbines which could provide power to the batteries on the move, thus extending their range or even be employed to provide a power boost perhaps more fitting to a supercar. Incredible claims were made at the time regarding its CO2 emissions, which were quoted at just 28g/km. A merely comparative figure perhaps, as all CO2 emission figures are really, but impressive nonetheless. The Jaguar C-X75 instantly became a low carbon automotive eco-icon (at least, it did to me). And they said they would build it too, albeit in limited numbers.

Of course, things would be different for production, which was slated for 2013/14. Out went the turbines and in came a 1.6 litre petrol engine, co-developed with the Williams F1 team (who also developed the carbon-fibre chassis), meaning that the range-extended concept was to become a hybridised reality. No matter – reality inevitably bites and, anyway, a screaming F1-developed small capacity petrol engine appeared to suit the C-X75s hi-tech billing.

On Monday evening, I spotted an item on the Autocar website about how testing for the forthcoming Jaguar C-X75 had approached ‘a critical phase’. I tweeted upon in, with ‘fingers crossed’ and wondering ‘might the turbines make it in later?’

How critical? On Tuesday morning, the news broke that the C-X75 was no more: the sorry story is here

What?!?!? Why? How? It seems that reality has well and truly bitten. The corporate bean-counters have declared that, in a time of global austerity, it would be inappropriate to launch £1m supercar and, besides, people want the cars that Jaguar are making now.

Is this a case of ‘jam today’? Maybe. Has anyone told Horacio Pagani with his £860k Huayra about global austerity? Or Aston Martin with their £1m+ One-77? To me, the C-X75 concept was surely more than a rich man’s plaything, more than a mere ‘supercar’. It was a tremendous halo product – not just for Jaguar, but also for low carbon automobility.

The C-X75 could have been truly eco-aspirational, a car that, in production, would have afforded a real glamour to low carbon vehicles and encouraged people to look beyond their mere environmental worthiness and possibly realise a desirability too. In doing so, it could well have justified its price tag, especially compared to the more conventional kicks provided by the exclusive offerings of Pagani and Aston Martin.

Even as just a concept or a prototype, the Jaguar C-X75 can perhaps still be regarded as eco-aspirational, and I hope that the technology behind it will trickle down into Jaguar Land Rover products in the future. Even if the technology does make it, the axing of the C-X75, a car I could never have hoped to afford, has still left me feeling a little bereft. With the C-X75, Jaguar could have bravely brought a new philosophy to both the notion of low carbon vehicle and the concept of the supercar. Instead, it feels like the Cat has been neutered.