Ralf Speth, global CEO of Jaguar Land Rover.
Ralf Speth, global CEO of Jaguar Land Rover.

In July, Volvo issued a press release with the headline: "Volvo Cars to go all-electric." Media houses around the world, including in SA, ran with it, declaring the end of the internal combustion engine. The problem was that the headline on the release was simply not true. It was a clever piece of PR manipulation by Volvo to ensure it got the coverage it wanted.

Had the reporters who misread the facts actually read the release properly or, as we did, tuned into the company’s online press conference, they would have known that Volvo plans to offer electrification in every new model it launches from 2019.

There is a vast difference between electrification and "all-electric". All-electric means no internal combustion engine, just pure electric power, such as the latest generation of the Nissan Leaf which was revealed this week. Electrification means anything from a 48V mild-hybrid system to plug-in hybrid and full electric. Volvo is promising all of these but only in new models it launches from 2019, anything that exists now will continue as it is for years to come.

We bring this up because on Thursday it all happened again. This morning Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth announced that: "Every new Jaguar Land Rover model line will be electrified from 2020." His statement is far less misleading than that made by Volvo, but it is slightly incorrect nonetheless.

We spoke with Speth on a visit to SA two weeks ago and he told us the company’s electrification plans, which you might have read about in last week’s Business Day Motor News. The company will make electrification available as an option for customers, meaning that all its models will continue as they are with an engine. However, customers will be able to choose to have some form of electrification, be it mild-hybrid, hybrid or plug-in hybrid. There will still be an engine.

Not that anyone at the BBC, Sky News, The Guardian or others seemed to understand this rather major fact. They all reported today that Jaguar Land Rover will go all-electric in 2020. The BBC ran the story: "New Jaguar models to be electric in 2020." The Guardian ran the headline: "Jaguar Land Rover to make only electric cars by 2020"; and Sky News declared: "Jaguar Land Rover to make only electric or hybrid cars by 2020". Wrong, wrong and wrong.

For the sake of our media colleagues around the world, here is what you should be saying: "Jaguar Land Rover to make electrification an option by 2020." Obviously this is not so dramatic and had reporters understood this to be the case, they might simply have ignored the story altogether. After all, most car companies, such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes — and even Volvo — are already offering some form of electrification.

This is not to say that Jaguar will not have a fully electric vehicle on the market, because it will. The new I-Pace small SUV/crossover will be available in international markets in 2018, and will even make it to SA either late in that year or early in 2019. No doubt more models will follow it, although perhaps not the retrofitted electric classic E-Type that Jaguar also revealed today.

There are lessons that need to be learnt by the Volvo and Jaguar electrification sagas. They are lessons for both the automotive industry, the media and the public. In these days of fewer specialised reporters in newsrooms, it is easy for a general reporter to see the potential headline without actually understanding, or in some cases even reading, the facts. However, it is even easier for the automotive industry to take advantage of it.

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