Gerry McGovern, Land Rover design director and chief creative officer, told CarAdvice at the 2015 New York auto show that the brand has plenty of room to move within its three distinct model ‘families’.
“I think the first thing to say is that the brand is expanding anyway, and part of the philosophy of this three family strategy – Range Rover representing luxury and refinement; Discovery representing premium execution and versatile reconfigurability of seating, all that sort of stuff; and eventually the new Defenders, all about the durability – gives you the ability to tune these vehicles in different ways,” he said.
McGovern said the three families will expand and fill niches to help the brand compete better in the market, and by doing so, offer buyers new options from the British off-road specialist brand.
“So in terms of Range Rover family, yes we have got sporting vehicles in there. The Range Rover Sport, the Evoque to a certain degree,” he said. “And then you’ve got the formality of Range Rover. And incidentally we are looking at other opportunities to put different types of what we call ‘white space’ vehicles in there.”
Part of that could be to include models that aren’t so much about the off-road ability, and more so focused on day to day use, according to McGovern.
“Generally our vehicles are becoming more on-road capable. That’s quite deliberate, because the reality is we recognise while a lot of people love the notion they can take these vehicles off-road and do anything they can do, the reality is a lot of people don’t do that – they want to use them on-road.
“It’s about relevance. That doesn’t mean we’re detuning their capability; that’s a given for us, to be honest. It’s a bit like the watch you can dive 150 metres in, say, a Rolex Submariner – I don’t know about you but I do that every day before I go to work,” he jested.
Reading between the lines, it seems there is a likely expansion of the two-wheel drive model lines within the Land Rover brand. Already, the Range Rover Evoque is offered in front-wheel drive guise, so that seemingly could expand to larger models, too.
“I think anything is up for grabs. We’ve got potentially all these ingredients in terms of technologies, platforms et cetera. But I truly think we need to – in terms of ultimate product offering – it still needs to maintain a level of essence of what the brand represents.
“But that is a moving feast anyway, it’s got to be about relevance. And if our consumers are saying they’d like that, then we’d be stupid not to look at it,” McGovern said.
“We’ll always have the ability to offer this supremacy in terms of off-road or all-terrain capability, but if customers are asking for less of that, then we’d be silly not to look at it. It’s about having confidence in the brand,” he said.
McGovern made it clear, however, that the brand might not be at that stage just yet.
“At the moment, clearly we’re still growing, and we have to get to a certain critical mass before we can start going off and doing [that sort of thing],” he said.
“You look at certain businesses that digress and they move away from their core competencies and they end up in trouble. I think that’s what we’ve just got to be careful of at the moment.
“It’s just changing, increasing our breadth of appeal,” McGovern suggested.
“The Range Rover Evoque didn’t exist before. And what that has done for the brand, it’s stretched the appeal of the brand – 80 per cent of people buying it never bought a Land Rover before of any description. And a lot of people buy it purely because of its design.
“And what that’s done internally, within the business culturally, has made people realise – look, you know, if you’re just about functionality and capability, to a lot of people you’re not relevant. Because everybody wants a well designed car. But you can still do it in a way that maintains the engineering integrity.”
So what else could be on the way from Land Rover and Range Rover to fill the white space? Well, according to McGovern there’s “loads” of that blank area to fill.
“If you think by 2020 there’s going to be 22 million SUVs – I use the term SUV loosely, it’s a generic term – SUV-type products sold globally, that’s a lot of vehicles,” he surmised.
“At the moment we’re doing about 400,000, next year with the introduction of Discovery Sport, we’ll be over 500,000,” he said of Land Rover and Range Rover sales.
“So we are growing, but we still want to maintain a level of exclusiveness, and once you get to a certain volume you might be considered not to be exclusive anymore. But given three families of vehicles, you can still maintain that exclusivity,” he said.
McGovern suggested that not losing sight of the goal of remaining the most luxurious and capable off-road vehicle brand was integral to the success of expanding the model lines on offer.
He said some people may not necessarily tend to venture off-road and test their car’s ultimate capabilities, but “they love the idea that it can do that”.
“We’re not selling vehicles anymore that are rational, functional vehicles that take you from one place to another. We’re actually selling products that are, to a lot of people, they’re a dream. People don’t need desirable [vehicles], they don’t need luxury products. But they desire them.
“And for me, it’s a combination – vehicles that are incredibly desirable but incredibly capable – I think is something that differentiates us potentially in the marketplace,” he said.
While exclusivity is important, McGovern clearly understands that the company is in the business of making money first and foremost, and that cars are a means to that ends.
“We need to build the volume to get to a critical mass in order to sustain the business and reinvest. We don’t see ourselves as massive volume producers. That’s not what we’re about. We need to get to a certain state,” he said.
“So if you think three families – at the moment we’re on what I keep calling this ‘journey of transformation’. And we’re only just, we’ve not long left the harbour.
“You’ve seen an element of Range Rover reinvention, but you know two or three of those vehicles are sort of bold evolutions of the various models. You’ve seen an Evoque, which is white space, and you’ll see some other things which are white space,” McGovern said.
Other things he’s referring to clearly include an expanded Discovery line-up including a replacement for the current Discovery 4, and potentially another model in the Range Rover family.
“We’ve only just started doing the new-generation Discoverys – you’ve seen the Discovery Sport, you saw that Vision Concept we created and showed here last year, the Discovery Vision Concept, and that’s a good pointer of where we’re taking Discovery.
“I think it needs to be more desirable. I think Discoverys need to be more sexy. Everybody wants to be sexy, don’t they?”
However, McGovern said he understands there are limitations to what role the Discovery can play before it starts to tread too far into Range Rover territory. But he has a plan.
“It’s a good spot, because what is deliberately happening is that Discoverys and Range Rover are deliberately getting closer together, and what’s driving them closer together is the fact that Discoverys are becoming more premium.
“The real differentiator is how you use them,” he said. “A Range Rover in my view will never be a full optimised seven-seat – that doesn’t mean exclusive. Discovery’s a bit more inclusive – there will be an optimised seven-seat Discovery.
“So it’ll be the versatility versus the luxury execution that’s the differentiator,” McGovern asserted.
“Visually, once you start to see these other Discoverys coming out and you look at them next to Range Rovers, there are definite differences in their characters. They’re still all Land Rovers – this is where it gets to the Defender.
“When Defender comes, that will anchor the brand back and give a total sort of full picture. I would say the Range Rover and the Defender will be polarising. But it will all make sense.”