In talk with Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern

Jaguar Land Rover is going through an incredible time. The undisputed makers of sports-utility cars, way before SUV became a household name, is redesigning its core models and introducing new cars. Last week the marque revealed its new Discovery design, a pinnacle model in the Discovery range to bridge the more luxurious Range Rover and soon to be updated rugged Defender.

The new Discovery’s design is simple, yet clever with a focus on providing the perfect family car. Its optimised seats can be configured in seemingly endless ways through the car’s touch screen or remotely on your smart phone to sit seven adult size occupants comfortably, and the intelligently packaged boot almost encourages an active, outdoors lifestyle.

We caught up with director of design Gerry McGovern at the show to learn more.

The new car is visibly much more polished

I love the ruggedness and hardness of this car, and yes I know some people will complain that it has lost its boxiness but that’s deliberate. A box is a brick and a brick doesn’t sail through air well. So we needed to make the car more aerodynamic, we deliberately put more form into it, and yes I wanted it to be sexy. Why shouldn’t a seven seat be handsome.

It feels closer in spirit to the Range Rover. Was this intentional?

We are deliberately moving Discovery closer to Range Rover as customers want it to be more luxurious and more premium but we will always retain the versatility. The main difference between Range Rovers and Discoveries is that level of versatility. So we would never do a Range Rover like this. Their identities are very different.

You are going through an interesting time with the entire family being redesigned, and new models being introduced.

Yes, we are on this journey of transformation, and until the Defender comes it won’t be clear what the strategy is. We’ve had the Evoque and Range Rover Sport but there will be more to come on the Range Rover family, and the Discovery family has only two members, this new car and the Discovery Sport, and it will also be growing. It will be so much easier to talk about this strategy when the Defender is out.

You’ve just shown the world’s largest ever Lego structure, an interpretation of London’s Tower Bridge, for the launch of the Discovery. I guess your work with the brand is also much like building blocks?

Yes, absolutely. It really is!

Can you explain the three sub-brands, so to speak, within the Land Rover group: Range Rover, Discovery and Defender?

Their identities are very different: Range Rover is about luxury, Discovery versatility, Defender durability. Range Rover is formal – it is the most luxurious interpretation of a Land Rover product and the new Defender will be the absolute polarisation of the Range Rover in every way.

I’m looking forward to seeing your vision for the twenty-first century Defender. How do you design durability?

You just have to wait… it’ll be worth waiting for.

So we should look forward to a much larger family of cars?

When you consider that there will be over twenty million SUV type products by 2020 then yes, we have a case for expanding the range. When the Discovery first came out, people weren’t doing the multitude of different lifestyle activities as they do today. SUVs enable people to do more for they are more flexible and spacious, and for me this Discovery is the optimum expression of this. It is flexible, connected, modern and sits beautifully and yet you can still see it is a Discovery and that is no easy task. It is a tribute to all the people who built it who took Discovery DNA and made it more relevant.

The concept of luxury is evolving to mean so many other less tangible things like time, authenticity, sustainability… How is Land Rover responding this?

Part of my job as the custodian of the brand is to make sure I make the people in the business who are signing the cheques realise they need to move on and embrace change. The automotive world can be traditionalists, a little old fashioned, and often to them luxury means leather, shinny metal. Wait till you see what’s coming next!

The interior, colour and trim, are interesting areas to explore new thinking, materials and ideologies, such as the vegan movement…

Yes, colour and materials is a great brand differentiator. If only you could see some of the work we’re doing in the studio… there is huge potential to do some incredible stuff. I completely agree that the days of shinny metal and leather are numbered, but there will always be people who will want this so it is a balance.

Is this something that the Jaguar Land Rover sub-brand SVO (special vehicles operation) can focus on more than the mainstream brand?

Yes, it is something we’re very focused on especially through SVO where we can be more experimental. We do one-off cars here, but everything we design with a client needs to be balanced and relevant to the brand.

Does the prospect of electrification and autonomous driving excite you?

I am and I am not. I am in terms of the opportunities it allows you to review the architecture of the vehicle in a different way. What can the occupants do when not driving? What will the cabin look like without a steering wheel? I do, however, always think there will be the desire to take control of the wheel, and to be fully autonomous will take a bit of a mental shift. But yes it is the most interesting and challenging subject in the automotive business.

Nargess Banks

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