Scalable and modular has been the future for top-tier automotive suppliers like Magna for the better part of this century so far. But in the march toward electric cars, those resourceful suppliers are acutely aware that it takes more than that to get automakers interested. 

What suppliers offer to global automakers needs to perform better and be more efficient, at a lower cost than what might pass through normal research and development. And that’s exactly what Magna’s e4 technology demonstrator, revealed late last month to us on a frozen lake above the Arctic Circle in Northern Sweden, goes to show. 

Out against the bright white horizon and the hours-long sunset sky, it might have looked like another Jaguar I-Pace. However nearly everything that makes the car go or involves energy has been reworked. 

Magna essentially reconceived the entire propulsion system for the Jaguar I-Pace. Out went the stock 147-kw permanent magnet (PSM) motors, in went proprietary scalable PSM motors from Magna good for 160 kw or potentially a quick boost to 180 kw. 

Magna e4 technology demonstrator (Jaguar I-Pace)

Magna e4 technology demonstrator (Jaguar I-Pace)

The supplier developed the electric motors, and gearboxes, as well as the software and vehicle control strategy. 

It added its own inverter, plus a “high-level drive controller” to manage both the motors and the torque split—via Magna’s system that allows side-to-side torque vectoring, with either side potentially able to get all the torque the rear motor can deliver. 

The rear drive system itself borrows components that Magna already makes and supplies for other all-wheel-drive vehicles—with an electromechanically actuated wet clutch for each rear wheel and a system that requires no differential. It’s closely related to the system used in the Mercedes-AMG A45, except with the electric motor providing torque input where the propshaft would otherwise connect and the system newly packaged as a unit. 

The system also has the advantage of being able to completely decouple the motor from both rear wheels when that aids efficiency. 

Magna e4 technology demonstrator (Jaguar I-Pace)

Magna e4 technology demonstrator (Jaguar I-Pace)

Magna’s upgrades in the e4 also include a predictive operating strategy that uses car-to-infrastructure (Car2X) technologies and artificial intelligence to find the right operating strategy given terrain and traffic. 

Many more miles of range

All factors together, Magna says that it can increase the range of the I-Pace by 25%—from its WLTP-rated 292 miles to 367 miles—using the same battery pack that Jaguar currently uses. To translate to the current EPA cycle, with everything incorporated that might boost the I-Pace's range from its current 234 miles to somewhere close to a true 300 miles on U.S. terms. 

Magna’s I-Pace uses an undisclosed amount more of the 90-kwh pack’s usable capacity than Jaguar’s listed 84.7 kwh—and revamped battery management. By keeping the battery capacity and form factor the same, but improving the cobalt content and the electrolyte, it says that it could do even better. 

Magna says that of the range gain in the e4 prototype, 12% percent is from better battery management and freeing up more capacity from the battery. The other 12% is purely from efficiency gains—including 6% from Magna’s reengineered propulsion system, 4% from the AI system, and 2% from a weight reduction of a few hundred pounds. 

The company said that it investigated a system with three 150-kw motors instead, but that required three inverters and was “a lot of extra cost and weight,” according to Anton Mayer, senior VP of engineering for Magna Powertrain. In its quest for economies of scale, Magna also emphasizes that the rear axle system for the e4 can also be used for high-performance hybrids. 

Out for oversteer

Magna also completely reworked the I-Pace’s traction and stability control systems, to offer a little more slip longitudinally and more progressive behavior in its Sport and Dynamic modes—with a little more oversteer allowed—and to enable a full-off mode for the stability control that the production I-Pace doesn’t offer (our editorial group spent a half-day on the track with one). 

And so while we had little to judge hands-on about the efficiency of this particular vehicle, we could definitely have a little fun on a frozen lake, where it was so cold that packed snow in the surrounding access roads made series of loud, rapid-fire crunches and pops when creeping forward, developing to a constant roar at speed.

Magna e4 technology demonstrator (Jaguar I-Pace)

Magna e4 technology demonstrator (Jaguar I-Pace)

With the stability calibration and the new rear-motor arrangement, it was the recipe for drifting like a pro. As we headed around the skidpad, mastering the balance of subtle steering inputs but unyielding accelerator inputs, we finally found a sweet spot in which we were able to maintain a drift virtually all the way around. 

On slippery surfaces with a friction coefficient ranging from about 0.3 down to below 0.1, despite winter tires, there really was no chance to sample regenerative braking either. Mayer mentioned that the next step—in a future version of this system—might allow brake regen on one side while forward propulsion is delivered on the other, filling the one scenario where this arrangement can’t quite deliver what two separate motors can.

Inside job

Why the I-Pace? There’s an important piece of somewhat-downplayed context to this entire story: Magna builds the I-Pace—at its Magna Steyr facility in Graz, Austria (where the Toyota Supra and BMW Z4 are also built). 

As Magna explained to us, Jaguar didn’t commission the e4, but it was the familiarity with the I-Pace that led to it being chosen for this project. “That was the reason we took this car as our demonstrator,” explained Harald Naunheimer, VP of future products for Magna Powertrain. “We are a supplier to them; they supplied us with some data, and we have given some information back.”

Magna e4 technology demonstrator (Jaguar I-Pace)

Magna e4 technology demonstrator (Jaguar I-Pace)

Jaguar just late last year started rolling out an update that might help range—to tweak power management, cooling behavior, and a number of elements like regenerative braking on the I-Pace; although the I-Pace is capable of over-the-air updates, that one needs to be done at a dealership. 

According to a recent report, Jaguar has its hands full. It’s developing not just an all-electric XJ sedan, but a larger J-Pace electric crossover and an equivalent Land Rover, nicknamed “Road Rover.” On top of that, it plans to keep making the I-Pace for a normal model lifespan—which in the auto industry is five to seven years. With that timing, and the I-Pace’s need for more range, especially for the U.S., the Magna work could be a great starting point for a mid-cycle refresh.


Internet Brands Automotive accepted travel, accommodation, and meals from Magna to bring you this report.