Land Rover has long established itself as one of the major players in the global car market.
Instantly recognisable, the brand has entered the popular consciousness, with the Range Rover in particular becoming an icon of success and aspiration for millions of people the world over. A Land Rover is no longer merely the weapon of choice for many British guns attempting to tackle the hills and valleys between drives.
The company has sold over four million vehicles, and last year had record sales, with 220,000 vehicles sold worldwide – 50,000 of which were in Britain. Impressive stuff. However the company’s origins reside a long way from the world of luxury motoring with which it is now associated.
The legend of the Land Rover begins thus: in 1947 Maurice Wilks, technical director for Rover, and his brother Spencer, Rover’s managing director, detected a strong demand for utilitarian, ex-military 4x4s whilst using a Jeep on a farm on Anglesey.
They allegedly sketched the first design for the Land Rover in the sand of a Welsh beach, and development of the vehicle commenced that same year using a Jeep chassis and a Rover engine.
The body panels were kept simple and were made from a light alloy, the chassis from off-cuts to avoid using rationed steel, and the need for complex tools.
This first Land Rover was launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948, and went on to outsell all other Rover cars. By the end of its first year in production, the vehicle was being exported to nearly 70 countries.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
Since that first year the company has seemingly been on a meteoric rise – the brand has survived numerous mergers, with companies such as Leyland and the British Motor Corporation in 1968, and buyouts from British Aerospace, BMW and Ford, right up to its recent purchase by Indian car giant Tata.
However, in this modern age of global warming, congestion charging and fears for the environment and global economy, one might well wonder if there is still a place for luxury vehicles that can only manage 25.1 miles to the gallon.
Andrew Roberts, director of global product and brand communications, believes the future is bright for Land Rover, and points to the numerous ways in which the company is combating these public fears: “All our manufacturing emissions have their carbon offset – our global production is offset, and all our UK cars are offset to the first 45,000 miles.”
Thankfully, however, this is not being achieved by promising to plant trees, as seems to be the current fashion for heavily polluting industries: “Land Rover work with a company called Climate Care – we particularly wanted to invest in renewable energies, so we’ve invested in a wind farm in China, as well as a particularly interesting project in Uganda, where we’re helping people to produce more efficient stoves. People in Kampala actually make them, which has a number of benefits – you?ve got the humanitarian benefits of employment, as well as more benefits to the environment, since they cut down less wood for fuel – it’s a really positive project.”
“The reason we’re doing all this is because we’ve got a lot of technology on the way [for the vehicles], but it’s not going to be with us for a few years, so this is just one of the ways we can reduce our impact on the environment in the meantime. It’s not a panacea; it’s not the answer – but it is a really good contribution. On top of that we can improve our manufacturing processes and efficient vehicle ever at 37.7mpg, and last year Land Rover and Jaguar announced a £700 million investment in new environmental technologies. That money is being made to work right now – in a reasonable amount of time you’ll see that reflected in our vehicles.”
The LRX is the latest in a long line of stunning concept vehicles from Land Rover, and was recently unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. This vehicle represents a fairly major departure for Land Rover; it is rumoured if the vehicle goes into production it will run on a diesel hybrid engine. One need only think back to the Range Stormer and Land E concepts to see there are major creative forces at work with the Land Rover designers.
Andrew Roberts agrees: “It’s a different concept for Land Rover. It’s almost as if we’ve asked, ‘if Land Rover were to do an Audi TT, how would we do it?’ We haven’t said we’re going to build it yet, but I have to say it’s looking pretty good; it will be smaller, lighter and more efficient than our other cars, but also the CO² emissions on it will be extremely good.”
KEEPING WITH TRADITION
For those of you who, like me, baulked at the styling of the car, be reassured; Land Rover has no plans to abandon their traditional workhorse, the Defender: “The LRX is a direction we’re going in, but it’s important we continue to build the most capable all-terrain vehicles and stay true to what the brand is about.”
“The current model still has a few years left in it, and we keep on updating it. There is a role for a really simple, straightforward, incredibly capable vehicle. It’s certainly a challenge though; what do we do to it in the next five or six years – how do we evolve it? I have to say I don’t know how, and if I did I couldn’t tell you anyway!”
So, why has Land Rover survived all these years? How has this fine British institution maintained its position at the top of the 4×4 tree?
Land Rover believes that it is very straightforward: “It’s down to new product. We’ve had more new products in the last five years than we ever have done in our entire history.”
“From 1948 to 2001 we had eight all-new products, and from 2001 to 2008 we’ve had five all-new products. We are selling 30,000 vehicles in countries we were really struggling in five years ago – Russia for example. We had a record year for sales last year, and hopefully we’ll get close to that again this year. We’re very confident about our future.”