Ex­pect more on-road Range Rovers


If you’re tut-tut­ting at a new gen­er­a­tion of Range Rovers that aren’t built for hard-core of­froad­ing first and fore­most, Gerry McGovern reck­ons you might be a bit be­hind the times.

This is a favourite topic for McGovern: he’s Land Rover’s chief de­sign of­fi­cer and a mem­ber of the board. He’s also the man that cre­ated the orig­i­nal Land Rover Free­lander (1997), which was ar­guably the com­pany’s first-ever ‘‘soft roader’’.

Speak­ing to me­dia at the August launch of the Range Rover Ve­lar in Nor­way, McGovern char­ac­terised Land Rover as a com­pany on a ‘‘jour­ney of trans­for­ma­tion’’ – one that looks ahead more than it looks back.

‘‘We tend to look at Land Rover through rose-tinted glasses. [We see] the orig­i­nal De­fender in the most ar­du­ous places all over the world; it seems to be synony­mous with jun­gles.

‘‘The re­al­ity is that we are now op­er­at­ing pre­dom­i­nantly in the ur­ban jun­gle. Go to Lon­don and you’ll see Range Rovers ev­ery­where and that’s repli­cated in many other places: New York, Shang­hai or Sydney.

‘‘Our roots are in func­tion­al­ity. But the de­sire [now] is to cre­ate prod­ucts that are less spe­cialised; we’ve come from a back­ground of be­ing a very spe­cialised brand to be­ing a uni­ver­sally appealing brand.

‘‘The idea is to not lose our unique­ness, to main­tain the essence. We have great re­spect for her­itage . . . but the world is chang­ing very quickly and have to make sure we’re flex­i­ble. Au­then­tic­ity is very im­por­tant in the world of lux­ury – and remember, we pro­duce lux­ury and pre­mium prod­ucts – but we can’t be har­nessed by it.’’ The first Range Rover to come from this de­sign strat­egy was the en­try-level Evoque (2011), a com­pact SUV that’s avail­able in both front and four-wheel drive. It’s in­tended mainly for ur­ban driv­ing, but the 4WD ver­sions still have classlead­ing off-road abil­ity – even if they don’t have the off-road abil­ity of Land Rover’s more spe­cialised mod­els.

Ve­lar is in the same vein: larger, more lux­u­ri­ous and much closer to a full-size Range Rover in pres­ence, re­fine­ment and sheer lux­ury. It’s based on the plat­form of the Jaguar F-Pace, so it’s aRWD ve­hi­cle for most tar­mac driv­ing and has road-car sus­pen­sion. But it’s still much more ca­pa­ble of­froad than its Jaguar sib­ling, with more so­phis­ti­cated trac­tion sys­tems and bet­ter axle ar­tic­u­la­tion.

The new Ve­lar is also more about the look than any Range Rover that has come be­fore.

‘‘We have put de­sign at the core of our busi­ness,’’ says McGovern. ‘‘En­gi­neer­ing has al­ways been at the core, but one of the things I’ve cam­paigned for is to ed­u­cate peo­ple that de­sign is not just the ic­ing on the cake, it’s not just on the sur­face; de­sign is the glue that holds ev­ery­thing to­gether. We have fun­da­men­tally changed the way that we de­sign ve­hi­cles in our busi­ness and that’s taken a cul­ture change. Evoque was the ve­hi­cle that started us off.

‘‘De­sign is not a democ­racy. Cre­at­ing a car is a mul­ti­dis­ci­plined ac­tiv­ity, but de­sign is not a democ­racy. Board and man­age­ment do not sign off de­signs in our busi­ness – that is done by the CEO, chief de­sign of­fi­cers and Mr Tata [Ratan Tata, head of Land Rover’s In­dian par­ent com­pany].’’ Range Rover is just one of three fam­i­lies in the com­pany. ‘‘Land Rover is the mas­ter brand,’’ ex­plains McGovern. ‘‘The in­di­vid­ual fam­i­lies are Range Rover (re­fine­ment, so­phis­ti­ca­tion), Dis­cov­ery (ver­sa­til­ity) and De­fender (dura­bil­ity).

‘‘Most of our fo­cus to date has been on Range Rover. There will be more from Dis­cov­ery and the [new] De­fend­ers are still to come. To be hon­est, this story won’t be com­plete un­til then.

‘‘One of things I’ve been asked to do is to stretch the busi­ness and go into ar­eas that we haven’t been be­fore.

‘‘I think Ve­lar has sur­prised quite a few peo­ple. What I would say is that there are quite a few more sur­prises on the way."

Ve­lar’s Jaguar plat­form means it’s more fo­cused on road driv­ing than tra­di­tional Range Rovers.

Land Rover de­sign boss Gerry McGovern: ‘‘Au­then­tic­ity is im­por­tant, but we can’t be har­nessed by it.’’

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