Nick Rogers is the man tak­ing Land Rover, in tech terms, off the beaten path

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - NATHAN PON­CHARD

ONE OF the most arous­ing con­cepts for fu­tur­ists, and the philo­soph­i­cal bedrock of gamechang­ers like Uber and Tesla, is the whole ‘disruptor’ phe­nom­e­non – an in­no­va­tor who chal­lenges the sta­tus quo, or shakes up an ex­ist­ing mar­ket. But is this ‘dis­rup­tive’ ide­ol­ogy some­thing you’d as­so­ciate with Jaguar-land Rover? Nick Rogers is cer­tain of it.

The Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor for Prod­uct Engi­neer­ing at the longestab­lished, up­per-crust Bri­tish firm is the chap re­spon­si­ble for guid­ing JLR’S fu­ture, and he’s ex­cited. “There’s al­ways that chal­lenge of if some­body says ‘you shouldn’t be do­ing that’, that re­bel­lious bit comes out and we go do it.” Think rad­i­cally styled, all-elec­tric Jaguar I-pace and the forth­com­ing 2019 Land Rover De­fender range – a very strong chance for EV and plugin-hy­brid propul­sion, es­pe­cially if Rogers’ ‘dis­rup­tive’ think­ing truly has legs. Or four wheels.

This is a dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent mind­set from 20 years ago, when Jaguar launched the retro-laden S-type sedan (and Rover the sim­i­larly her­itage-in­spired 75) at the 1998 Geneva Mo­tor Show. In 2018, the Leap­ing Cat’s legacy at Geneva was the pro­duc­tion ver­sion of its all-elec­tric I-pace, vir­tu­ally un­changed from the con­cept car of a year ear­lier. In­stantly, the par­a­digm shifted. What would the pipe-and-slip­pers brigade (if any of them still ex­ist) think of a mod­ern Jaguar as rad­i­cal as the I-pace?

Viewed from a full-cir­cle con­text, Rogers says it’s fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory. “In ’46, Wil­liam Lyons sat there, straight out of the war in the UK – the coun­try was just hor­ren­dous, most of the in­fra­struc­ture flat­tened – so imag­ine him sit­ting there say­ing, ‘I’ve got an idea – let’s do an alu­minium car [the Jaguar XK] that will do 120mph; we’ll ex­port them around the world.’ The courage to do that…”

Dis­cus­sion turns to the un­con­ven­tional shape of the I-pace (as long and as wide as a Porsche Ma­can or Mercedes GLC, but re­ject­ing their long-bon­net pro­por­tions); I ask Rogers if there’s room for the brand be­neath the small­est-ever mod­ern Jaguar (the E-pace) – how small can a Jaguar or Land Rover go?

“I think there’s op­por­tu­nity for them. When we did the Evoque, peo­ple were like ‘Oh my God, a lit­tle Range Rover, what’s that gonna do?’ And it’s been awe­some. It’s cre­ated a com­pletely dif­fer­ent seg­ment and mind­set for the brand. The same [hap­pened] when we launched Free­lander [in 1997; it was the first premium SUV of its size in Europe, and the first mono­coque] … that was the num­ber-one seller for ages. But again the pal­pi­ta­tions – ‘oh my God, you’re gonna do a Land Rover with­out a chas­sis?’”

When Rogers started work as a body en­gi­neer in 1984, the be­lea­guered Bri­tish Ley­land had tran­si­tioned into the Austin-rover Group, and the word “dis­rup­tive” had a very dif­fer­ent mean­ing from the “just go for it” spirit of JLR’S cur­rent am­bi­tions.

“You had this clave of Bri­tish Ley­land, which was al­ways a ma­jor bat­tle of sorts to get through. There was lots of in­fight­ing be­tween the brands, [with] ev­ery­body vy­ing for their po­si­tion.” Thirty-four years later, the cul­tural land­scape at JLR’S main out­post in Gay­don is vastly dif­fer­ent. Engi­neer­ing has grown from 2500 staff in ’08 to 12,500 (“we’ve pulled in peo­ple from all over the world … lots of bright young grads and ap­pren­tices; it’s ac­tu­ally the per­fect mix to be dis­rup­tive”) and the build­ing has ex­panded to such an ex­tent that “from the win­dows of ‘G-deck’ [Gay­don De­sign and Engi­neer­ing Cen­tre], you look straight into the [Bri­tish Mo­tor] Mu­seum” – one of the largest col­lec­tions of his­toric Bri­tish cars in the world.

“You’ve got to un­der­stand your her­itage and re­spect it, and use it as in­spi­ra­tion,” says Rogers, “[but] you can’t just wal­low in the his­tory and hope some­thing will hap­pen; you’ve ac­tu­ally got to get un­der the psy­che of it, un­der­stand the spirit and use that to stim­u­late do­ing some­thing else.”

Which brings us to the topic of the next-gen­er­a­tion De­fender. It’s a per­sonal ob­ses­sion for Rogers. His heart lies with Land Rover – in par­tic­u­lar, his love of the 1948-’58 Se­ries I (“it’s quite a bad disease,” he says) – af­ter learn­ing to drive at the age of 10 on his fam­ily’s small farm out­side Ox­ford, at the wheel of his fa­ther’s Se­ries II. He knows as well as any­body that 2019’s reimagined take on this beloved Bri­tish icon needs to re­vive the orig­i­nal Landie’s pi­o­neer­ing, cre­ative spirit.

“To do the un­think­able – to just go for it – is def­i­nitely where we are now.” In­stantly, an all-elec­tric Land Rover De­fender springs to mind, so I put the ques­tion to Rogers: If the I-pace is the poster child for Jaguar be­ing dis­rup­tive, is the new De­fender go­ing to be the same for Land Rover?

“I think it’s go­ing to be pretty cool. I can’t talk too much about it but it’s gonna be dif­fer­ent; ex­cit­ing … it’s in my heart, trust me.”

If the I-pace is the poster child for Jaguar be­ing dis­rup­tive, is the new De­fender go­ing to be the same for Land Rover?

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