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Why Graz is greener: London to Austria in Jaguar's biggest selling E-Pace

Autocar 2019-02-09 00:00:00
  • Born in Austria but with a Brummie accent
  • I-Pace and E-Pace: two very different cars built side by side
  • Robots assemble around six I-Pace bodies per hour
  • Jag’s Wilkins takes Cropley along the line
  • E-Pace’s cabin has comfy seats and is largely noise-free
  • Cropley watches out for more ‘gilets jaunes’
  • Three days, 1000 miles and lots of coffee
  • Compact footprint makes boarding Le Shuttle a doddle

This swept us south-east through even grander alpine scenery into Graz where the wise choice seemed to be another Ibis, clearly close to Magna Steyr (on Walter P Chrysler Platz) because at breakfast the next day the place was half-filled with engineers talking about widgets in several different languages while tucking into their mega-breakfasts. 

Plant Graz, as Jaguar likes to call it, is a few minutes out of town and spread out over a vast site, as you’d expect from a place that concurrently makes Mercs, BMWs and Jaguars and has half a century’s experience at keeping customers politely but firmly segregated. Premium and low-volume cars may be Graz’s stock in trade, but the businesslike aura of the site and its inmates makes it very clear from the first that there’s is no room, need or appetite here for frills. We were ushered into a spartan meeting room, our HQ for the day, that opened off a corridor that cleverly led to several more rooms just like it. 

The place brightened immeasurably when I was introduced to couple of genuine JLR bigwigs – Graham Wilkins, chief programme engineer of E-Pace and I-Pace, and Gregor McLachlan, manufacturing programme director – whose pride and commitment to this operation were as obvious as their faith in their Magna colleagues led today by launch manager Robert Huemer. A native of Graz, Huemer speaks better English than we do and is one of those of multi-experienced engineering blokes who companies depend on to smooth the inevitable glitches of start-ups. 

Glitches were mostly in the past here, everyone insisted, at least in the manufacturing sphere. One hears separate tales that the supply of I-Pace batteries could be going, but that’s not an issue for the Magna team, who just mount them in the cars. At their end, this operation is percolating. 

Magna’s Jaguar partnership has grown from pre-concept meetings five years ago, and was regularised about four years ago when the deal to build cars was done. In the view of the in-house trio, it’s well and truly mature. Donning special boots and covering watches and belt-buckles (to avoid scratches on new cars), we visited a new-build, robotised plant called Hall 71 where the I-Pace’s body-in-white is assembled from panels pressed in 100% aluminium. The big jobs are done by 87 robots wielding 84 rivet guns, using 2600 rivets per shell and applying 177 metres of adhesive. Hall 71 can make about six bodies an hour, using a cycle time for each operation of 500 seconds. Quality is key, as everyone insists. Bodies are constantly measured for accuracy and one shell per shift is removed from the process for all-measuring. If the important tolerances ever exceed 0.2mm, people come running.