Land Rover's Managing Director Phil Popham visited Auckland recently and explained the company's technological plans, including weight reduction and electric vehicles
Land Rover will be developing cars with more appropriate technology for the market niche they are aimed at, says Popham
“Our cars will be engineered appropriately for the people who buy them,” he said.
“The new small Range Rover won’t be a boulder crawler, but it’s still got to be the best on road and off road vehicle in its class.”
The vehicle he is talking about is the LRX, which has been confirmed for production and will be on sale in about two year’s time.
But the iconic Defender – the descendant of the original 1949 Land Rover - has to be a very 4WD capable said Popham.
So, Land Rover has patented its Terrain Response 4WD system to make the appropriate technology. “It gives a great breadth of capability yet has benefits in everyday use too.”
“I think we have listened to the changing demands of our customers,” said Popham. “We have evolved and developed cars to meet their expectations.”
He cited the Discovery as a classic example. “It created a new 4x4 market segment 20 years ago. More upmarket than the Defender, but below the Range Rover.”
“It was the first 4WD with ABS and airbags and has come a long way in the last two decades. Now Terrain Response makes it very adaptable.”
While it has a quality soft feel interior it still has very good off road capability and durability.
Popham said Land Rover – Range Rover buyers will still expect a premium high specification vehicle with technology leadership in the future. “Customer research has shown they don’t want a downgraded car, but also require more fuel efficiency and sustainability.”
“People will still want to carry or tow loads and have up to seven passengers. There is still a place for us in the future.”
Popham said reducing weight of all products in the company’s range was crucial as customers still wanted a myriad of high tech features.
Land Rover was exploring all avenues of fuel saving and making its vehicles more efficient he said. “There is no silver bullet. Hybrids are only one answer but expensive.”
Stop-start technology is going into manual gearbox vehicles now, although getting it to work with automatics was harder said Mr Popham.
And the company is looking at electric vehicles. “We will have different technologies for different cars.”
Weight reduction and development of current petrol and turbo diesel power plants was still bringing good results said Popham. The company’s fleet will have 25 percent less emissions in 2012 compared to last year, largely through development of existing technology and going on a diet.
“If we can get the weight out we can use smaller more efficient engines,” he said.
Land Rover is continuing to invest heavily in the future. The 2010 model Discovery 4, Range Rover Sport and full sized Range Rover due here at the end of the year have had 400 million pounds sterling spent on them.
“These models have better economy in basically the same architecture. When we replace them I can guarantee the new cars will be lighter and even more efficient.”
And the company has twice that sum earmarked for research and development over the next four years.
The iconic Defender is good for another four years said Popham. “We can keep it legal – meeting safety and emission regulations – until 2013.”
And Land Rover wants to replace it. “We sell about 25,000 Defenders world wide a year. There is still consistent, strong demand for it.”
But a replacement will have to be manufactured on a more modern platform that can be shared with other models in greater volume.
With the company not dependent on any one market or region for its survival – Land Rover now sells in 165 markets – it is increasingly been perceived as a premium western brand, rather than a British marque, said Popham.
“Brazil, Russia, India and China have been good for us and although all have had recession in the last two years it’s all been at different times.”
China is now Land Rover’s third biggest market after Britain and the United States.
The increasing global diversification of the company saw it sell 35,000 cars in new markets in 2007 – countries that it did not compete in last century.
Land Rover’s future is assured with investment in a constantly renewed product line-up and evolving technology to meet the needs of the future, said Popham.
See new and used Land Rover for sale here.